National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) dir. Jon Turtletaub
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger
Jerry Bruckheimer is sitting on a cash cow, perhaps more valuable than the ‘Pirates” franchise. Though the National Treasure films aren’t in the $300m range in box office, the series doesn’t rely on its stars to continue the franchise. Nicholas Cage, who stars, isn’t getting the choice offers that Johnny Depp gets, therefore the threat of Cage leaving the series for more fruitful ventures likely won’t happen. And even if Cage leaves contriving a suitable replacement wouldn't be that hard, and likely wouldn’t affect the box office. Therefore as long as there's national history to scour this series could go on forever.
In Part 2 “Book of Secrets”, our hero Ben Gates (Nick Cage) and his father Patrick Gates recently discover a lost page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth naming an ancestor of theirs as a co-conspirator of the assassination of President Lincoln. But the elder Gates (Jon Voight) has memories of his great grandfather telling him a story of his association with Booth without reference to the assassination. This leads the duo to theorize that the lost page of the diary is actually a treasure map to a lost city of gold which Gates’ ancestor was actually hiding from the conspirators.
So with family pride on the line, the Gates’, their nerdy associate Riley Poole and Ben’s ex-girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) embark on another cross-country adventure. As with the first film the trail of breadcrumbs are a series puzzles which takes them to different landmarks (this time from Paris, to London, to Washington and to Mount Rushmore) in search of the national treasure. The title ‘Book of Secrets’ refers to a diary passed down from President to President containing all the conspiracy secrets we all desire to know. And the key to unlocking the mystery lies in this elusive book.
“National Treasure” is a strange success. Like the first film, “Book of Secrets” is basically a series of puzzles and riddles conveniently leading our heroes from one famous landmark to another in search of treasure. The characters, with a straight face, even use the dumbed-down words, ‘treasure’ and ‘clues’ to describe their activities. It’s a highly fragile hook for the series, but when window-dressed with Bruckheimer’s muscular production value our senses are somehow dulled to the ridiculousness of it all.
What’s fascinating is that the riddles are so rudimentary – as complicated as something on the back of a cereal box – and situations so contrived that audiences continually look past this and dish out their hard earned money. It’s the talent of Jerry Bruckheimer - producer and creative force behind all his films – who has clearly tapped into a fundamental urge of children and adults. It all goes back to the cereal box. I think I can speak for most adults with any connection to their childhood, that no matter what kind of prize is hidden in one’s Golden Grahams or Honey Nut Cheerios, there’s a sense of discovery in finding the hidden toy in the cereal. Some people look for the toy as soon as they open the box, some people wait for the toy to drop in their bowl, either way it's an accomplishment.
The same goes with “National Treasure”. No matter how silly things get (REALLY silly in fact), there’s something innately exciting watching Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight traverse those national monuments we're all familiar with and discovering trapdoors, hidden clues, cryptograms and other coded secrets of history in the most unlikely of places. But it's no more ridiculous than "The Da Vinci Code", which is blossoming into another cine-franchise.
Though the series piggybacks on the ”Indiana Jones” mold of storytelling, thanks to the Bruckheimer production machine, the series never feels like a pale comparison of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – unlike say, “The Mummy” films.
There may come a time when Bruckheimer’s gold mine franchise exhausts all the monuments or turning points in American history, at which point the series will come to an end. But this is likely well down the road in the multitude of sequels we’re likely to see. And if it’s a decent paycheck for Mr. Cage and company, the familiar faces will keep returning as well. Enjoy.