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Should I Watch..? 'National Treasure' (2004)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

DVD cover for the film

DVD cover for the film

What's the Big Deal?

National Treasure is an action adventure film released in 2004; it was produced and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the film is about a historian and cryptologist who is searching for the clues leading to a vast hidden treasure in a race against time and a rival team of armed mercenaries. The film stars Nicholas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Sean Bean. The film was a commercial success with global takings in excess of $358 million, but the movie received a lukewarm reaction from critics who disliked the film's implausible story and ridiculous plot twists. Nevertheless, a sequel was produced in 2007 with a third rumoured to be in development at the time of writing.


What's It About?

Benjamin Franklin Gates is the latest in a long line of treasure hunters with a keen interest in history and cryptography. Discouraged by his father, Benjamin relies on his grandfather's tales of a vast treasure horde which Benjamin is destined to find and protect. According to Grandpa John, a clue was left to the family by Charles Carroll - the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence—who said that "the secret lies with Charlotte". Years later, Benjamin has located a ship called the Charlotte lodged in frozen Arctic ice and begins an expedition along with IT expert Riley Poole and bodyguard Ian Howe and his men.

After failing to find the treasure, Howe and his men grow tired of the hunt after Benjamin only discovers another clue suggesting that the next clue is on the back of the Declaration itself. Deciding to beat Benjamin to the treasure, Howe and his men blow up the ship and head off to Washington DC to steal the Declaration for themselves. Luckily, Benjamin and Riley survive and begin the chase—knowing that the only way to protect the Declaration is to steal it themselves...


What's to Like?

Anyone who has read any of Dan Brown's books like The Da Vinci Code will be in their element here as the story is plainly a load of absolute tosh. But luckily, it's entertaining tosh thanks to a game cast who sell it really well. Cage, for once, is spot-on as the slightly unhinged Gates although he lacks the macho charisma and humour that Harrison Ford brought to the role of Indiana Jones. Kruger does a good job of bringing some sanity to proceedings while Bean can play bad guys in his sleep so you've nothing to worry about there. The cast does a great job of keeping the film's frantic pace running smoothly between one historical location to the next.

The film actually feels like a travelogue and documentary of the US in one, covering everything from the War of Independence to Benjamin Franklin, the Liberty Bell and everything in between. Assuming you know your American history (which, I confess, I don't—being British and everything!) it's an entertaining way of relooking at subjects that have been covered many times and helps you appreciate them more. The film also harks back to the old-fashioned adventure movies like Indiana Jones but in a less scarey, more family-friendly way. There are no masses of spiders or snakes for our heroes to tangle with, meaning even the youngest of kids can enjoy the ride.

Cage (left) has just the right amount of nervous energy to convince as historical nut-case Gates

Cage (left) has just the right amount of nervous energy to convince as historical nut-case Gates

Fun Facts

  • Sandusky's tie has the insignia for the US Marine Corps on it. Keitel himself actually served in the Marines before becoming an actor.
  • For some reason that is never explained, all the good guys in the film use Google while all the bad guys use Yahoo search engines.
  • Look closely at the yellow paper Sean Bean is writing on board the Charlotte. There are two crossed swords with a circle between them at the top of the page. This is actually the logo for Sheffield United, Bean's hometown football team also known as the Blades. He even played a footballer for the team in the film When Saturday Comes.

What's Not to Like?

The film's biggest problem is that it struggles to avoid feeling like a blatant rip-off of other sources. Whether it's Brown's The Da Vinci Code book (the film adaptation wouldn't be released until 2006) or the hugely enjoyable Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film seems to exist in the shadows of something else. Yes, it is extremely derivative and almost impossibly convoluted but, so long as you are enjoying the film, is this really such a massive problem?

There are other problems as well such as Bartha's irritating performance as comic relief sidekick Riley. There never feels like there is a place for him in the film, especially after Kruger's glamorous Dr Chase appears on the scene. Then the poor guy seems to hang around because he has no other friends to play with. And because it is so convoluted, it goes on for such a long time (Turteltaub admitted the original cut ran at over four hours long on the DVD commentary!) that eventually, you just lose interest. The film reminded a lot of Turteltaub's later film The Sorcerer's Apprentice which also starred Cage—the film is a complete load of hogwash but it tries really hard to prove itself and you can't hate a film for trying to be better than it is.

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Bartha (right) was weak and doesn't really have a place in the film apart from as comic relief sidekick

Bartha (right) was weak and doesn't really have a place in the film apart from as comic relief sidekick

Should I Watch It?

National Treasure might be nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is but the film is watchable enough for the whole family to enjoy. It's a big, dumb romp through historical fact and fiction, attempting to provide something for conspiracy theorists to go nuts over as well as being a decent adventure movie. But its prolonged running time and meandering story means that you eventually give up following the trail - personally, I kinda sympathised with Bean's character...

Great For: family nights in, conspiracy theorists, people who believe The Da Vinci Code, American tourism industry

Not So Great For: historians, history teachers, actual treasure hunters

What else should I watch?

The film's obvious influence is the Indiana Jones series which have since become almost as mythical as the artefacts Harrison Ford seeks. The best films in the series, the aforementioned Raiders Of The Lost Ark and the third instalment Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, both see Ford's impossibly charismatic whip-cracker on perilous adventures into myth, history and Nazi troopers. The second film -Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom - was a prequel and much darker in tone, pitting Indy against a blood-thirsty cult in deepest India. I won't go into the more recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, suffice to say that I'd rather go for a walk in a rat-infested sewer than watch that garbage again.

Of course, treasure hunters have long been portrayed in cinema from the various versions of King Solomon's Mines to more recent fare like The Goonies and Gold. Personal favourites of mine include the animated version of The Adventures Of Tintin which is much under-rated and the romantic comedy adventure Romancing The Stone.

Main Cast


Nicholas Cage

Benjamin Franklin Gates

Justin Bartha

Riley Poole

Sean Bean

Ian Howe

Diane Kruger

Dr Abigail Chase

Jon Voight

Patrick Henry Gates

Christopher Plummer

John Adams Gates

Harvey Keitel

Agent Peter Sadusky

Technical Info

*story by Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv and Charles Segars

DirectorJon Turteltaub


Marianne & Cormac Wibberley and Jim Kouf *

Running Time

131 minutes

Release Date (UK)

26th December, 2004




Action, Adventure, Family, Thriller

© 2017 Benjamin Cox

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Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on February 08, 2017:

Thanks for the comments - nice to know that people seem to know what I'm talking about! I guess that with a story as silly as "National Treasure", sensationalism was the way to go and it generally paid off.

Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on February 08, 2017:

I really liked the "National Treasure" movies. It seems like these adventure stories are hard to come by, and this franchise helps to keep them alive. The history lessons littered throughout are worked into the story in a clever way, not just thrown in there without meaning. It also has that Disney sensationalism that they are known for, especially in their early 2000's live action era of the "Pirates" movies and such. Great breakdown of the movie!

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