Monday, November 22, 2004

National Treasure (2004)

I'm going to swim against the critical tide and come out in favor of National Treasure. Yes, there are lots of action/heist movie cliches, and the pacing is uneven, but the film had some real ideas behind it as well. Reviewers seem to be focusing on the similarity to The Da Vince Code and the Indiana Jones franchise and ignoring the honest, patriotic message at the center of the film: natural rights and American exceptionalism. Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) waxes poetic about the lines from the preamble to the Declaration denouncing tyranny because he has a passion for the ideals of the Founders, not because he's wild for the Crusader/Freemason treasure. The treasure itself is a metaphor for political power. The Masons hid the treasure because it was too great for any man, even a king, to possess. If it was known to exist the struggle over it would only create more violence and death. The same is true of political power (or supreme executive authority, as the peasants would put it). Sovereign authority is too great a treasure for one man - even an enlightened one - to possess. When the American Revolution came, the treasure was hidden and the political power was dispersed.

All that said, the one thing that annoys the hell out of me about reading harsh reviews is when the reviews get the details wrong. For example, Stephan Holden's review in The New York Times: "The Knights of Templar, some of whom were Founding Fathers, supposedly left a trail of coded clues that begins on a frozen ship north of the Arctic Circle and ends in the bowels of Lower Manhattan under a crumbling system of dumbwaiters." First of all, it's Knights Templar, or Knights of the Temple, not "Knights of Templar." Second, the Founders in question were Freemasons, the inheritors of the Templar horde, not Knights themselves. Thirdly, the location under Trinity Church in Manhattan is actually a huge 200-year old shaft with a circling staircase and a massive series of mechanical moving platforms which one of the characters facetiously compares to dumbwaiters when the characters first see them. And then there's his description of the treasure itself: "...the ultimate jackpot is a subterranean nest of dusty museum tchotchkes that the movie passes off as priceless Egyptian artifacts." They aren't all from Egypt - those are just the oldest ones nearest the entrance. Also near the entrance are lost scrolls from the library of Alexandria, hardly "dusty museum tchotchkes." Sloppy.

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