"National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" is far from a perfect film, but itís a fairly solid, if somewhat wobbly, second part in what is sure to become a long standing franchise.
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007, Blu-ray)
Directors: Jon Turteltaub
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Marianne Wibberley (screenplay) (as The Wibberleys) & Cormac Wibberley (screenplay) (as The Wibberleys) Gregory Poirier (story) and Marianne Wibberley (story) (as The Wibberleys) & Cormac Wibberley (story) (as The Wibberleys) &
Features: * Documentary * Interactive Trivia Track * Deleted Scenes * Commentary
Nicolas Cage ... Ben Gates
Justin Bartha ... Riley Poole
Diane Kruger ... Abigail Chase
Jon Voight ... Patrick Gates
Helen Mirren ... Prof. Emily Appleton
Ed Harris ... Mitch Wilkinson
Harvey Keitel ... Agent Sadusky
Bruce Greenwood ... The President
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets Blu-ray Review
The "National Treasure" franchise is a rather strange one. When the first film was initially released, it was met with harsh criticism from many renowned critics who sloughed the film off as "typical Michael Bay tripe." But when the film hit home video, it found a whole new wave of critics who were significantly kinder to the family-friendly adventure. Thankfully, the film did well at the box office and has now transformed from a one-shot film to a potential franchise.
Even stranger is that when "National Treasure 2" was released, again to hordes of nasty reviews, it actually performed better than its predecessor. Unfortunately though, the film isnít quite as good as the first, but only marginally so. Instead, the film is a tad too dry, too slow moving, too talky and lacking the mounting action one typically sees with sequels.
This time around, Benjamin Gates and his family are shamed when they learn that one of their ancestors, Thomas Gates, might have been a co-conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. This jolts Ben and his family (Jon Voight and Helen Mirren) on yet another treasure hunt, this time to prove the innocence of his grandfatherís grandfather. Along the way, we learn that Ben has broken up with Abigail (Diane Kruger) and that Benís father Patrick is divorced and doesnít get along so well with his mother Professor Emily Appleton. In addition to those conflicts, a fellow treasure hunter named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) is after the treasure with designs of, once again, capturing the glory for himself.
Typically a sequel is a tad contextually, and thematically, darker than the first. Take, for example, "The Empire Strikes Back," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" or even Disneyís own "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." But here, the film actually feels lighter than the last. Thereís less threat of death as Ed Harris is not as foreboding as Sean Bean. He even ends up redeeming himself, in a way, at the finale. Itís as though Disney was afraid of tonally darkening the film too much, like they did with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Manís Chest." Some liked the change with "Pirates", others felt it was off-putting and took the franchise in a different direction than it was originally headed.
Making matter worse, the film doesnít really up the ante when it comes to action. Instead, it plays through the same sort of action sequences seen in the last film. Thereís yet another car chase, yet another on-foot chase, something (or someone) must be taken in order to find out a piece of the puzzle, and once again, thereís an elaborate maze our heroes, and villains, must conquer before finding the treasure. Even the very finale, which once again features Harvey Keitelís Agent Sadusky, reaches, almost exactly, the same conclusion. Refreshingly, most of the action is practically shot, with little CG, but there needed to be some newer, original twists and turns to really ignite the film. Rather, the film feels stale in comparison.
The movie is so tedious in its tired setup that the film actually feels boring instead of mysterious or exciting. Still, the characters keep the film afloat, offering quips as well timed humor throughout. Justin Barthaís Riley Poole is toned down quite a bit, only offering occasional, and less annoying, moments of wit. The break-up between Gates and Abigail is completely contrived and only serves as a device to thrust the plot along its rails, but the inclusion of Helen Mirren as Gatesí mother is spot-on. She and Voight have a small side adventure during the final act that lightens up, and saves, the picture from complete boredom. Like the first film, itís nice to a picture with such candid, real characters.
When the film isnít being bogged down by convoluted plot threads, or familiar setups, itís actually rather good. Itís always nice to see the cast return, and again, not phone in their respective performances. Itís so easy for an actor to take this sort of work with a grain of salt, but everyone, even Oscar winner Helen Mirren, seems to be enjoying the film. Also, the history shown in the film is well researched proving fun for history buffs. The Book of Secrets is profoundly intriguing. Thereís even a setup for a third film, which is almost surely going to happen giving the box office charisma of this venerable franchise.
"National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" is far from a perfect film, but itís a fairly solid, if somewhat wobbly, second part in what is sure to become a long standing franchise. Hopefully, the filmmakers will take the series in a newer direction with the third outing as this series could grow tired very quickly.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: B
Film Value: B-
Disney presents "National Treasure 2" in 2.35:1 1080p/AVC on a dual-layered BD50 disc. This transfer certainly fares better than the first, but only marginally. Visuals are far more striking this time around, with detailed sharpness at every corner. Depth is much better, but black levels are still a bit funky, feeling crushed and flat during darker sequences. Whatís odd is that some sequences look great and others donít. When Ben Gates is in the tunnel with the President, the black levels look great, inky and pronounced. Then, when our heroes are battling the mazes inside Mount Rushmore, the black levels look artificial, grainy and greenish. Perhaps itís an in-camera change in lighting that gives the film this flattened look. Fleshtones are spot-on. Daytime sequences are perfect, with sharp, detailed, bright images covering the screen. Thereís not a spot of dust, specks or grain on the print either. This is a fine, but minorly flawed, transfer.
Disney presents the film in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I imagine that this is going to become the standard on all upcoming Disney Blu-ray discs. Itís a fine track, but not quite as involving as I had expected it would be. The mix feels a bit subdued at times, while other times, itís extremely precise, even robust. Surround effects are well placed and the filmís grating score booms through all 5 channels when appropriate. This just wasnít my favorite mix.
Disney offers up a great assortment of bonuses for fans to enjoy. Theyíre not quite as expansive as the last set, but still well worth your time. Features include:
ē Commentary -- Featuring director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight. This is a significantly more engaging technical commentary than the first film. Voight offers on-set stories and trivia while Turteltaub goes into intense detail about how they shot various scenes. Itís a tad too technical, but Voight brightens up the rough patches.
ē Documentary: ĎSecrets of a Sequelí -- Like the first film, this 60 minute documentary is cut up into several smaller featurettes (8 total) that cover the film from pre-production to post-production. This is slightly fluffier than the last documentary, but still, a lot of info is handed out to fans.
ē Trailers -- For Disney films coming to Blu-ray.
ē The Treasure Reel -- Basically, this is an assortment of gags, bloopers and outtakes. Fun stuff.
ē Hidden Minis -- Surf around the menus to find short, hidden mini-featurettes. Theyíre all over the place.
Disney provides a nice assortment of high-def exclusive bonuses for fans to peruse.
ē Book of History: Fact and Fiction of National Treasure -- Basically, this in part branching featurette, part trivia track, part interactive game. Icons appear on the screen that takes you to various vignettes detailing the filmís historical value. Also, questions appear on-screen that are based on what youíve watched. This feature felt a little too much like a classroom lecture for my tastes, but itís sure to delight history buffs.
ē Two bonus deleted scenes -- Disney provides fans with two added deleted scenes. Itís not really anything of true note, but itís still nice to have an added goodie for high-def owners.
The film comes in an "Elite" blue case, design is simple and in fitting with Disney's other titles.
Not quite as good as the first film, but certainly not as lousy as some sequels can get. The second outing of "Treasure" proves to be a tad more tedious than I would have liked, but the film has itís shining moments. The Blu-ray presentation is top notch and highly recommended for fans looking to pick this film up.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: B-
Recommendation: Worth a rent.
On Blu-ray: May 20th, 2008
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----R. L. Shaffer