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July 30, 2008
National Treasure Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
25/11/20043/6/2008Walt DisneyJon Turteltaub
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dolby TrueHD 5.1PGNic Cage

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Nic Cage, Justin Bartha and Washington Monument.
Growing up in the 1980's was a glorious time for movie goers such as myself. Star Wars, Back to the Future and Superman were all franchises that captured the hearts of millions the world over, but for me it was Indiana Jones that got me excited. Over the years many filmmakers have tried to recapture that spirit (Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold anyone?) but few have succeeded in even getting close. Then in late 2004 National Treasure was released, and it gave movie goers something to get excited about.

From the time his grandfather first told him about it, Benjamin has been obsessed with finding a treasure believed to be the greatest the world has ever known – one that has been amassed over centuries and moved across continents. This vast fortune has supposedly been hidden by the founding fathers of America (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson et al) who have laid out clues for its location. Most people do not believe in the existence of this treasure, even Benjamin's father, Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voight) is skeptical, but after many years, Benjamin believes that the final clue is a map located on the back of nothing less than the Declaration of Independence!

He realises that to keep the secret of the treasure from falling into the wrong hands – namely a double-crossing partner called Ian Howe (Sean Bean) – Benjamin and his associate, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) must steal the country’s most celebrated document. With the help of museum curator, Dr Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and pursued by the FBI led by an investigator named Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) as well as Howe and his henchmen, Benjamin and Riley become caught up in a desperate race against time to decipher the clues and unlock the 2,000-year-old mystery.

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Something always has to blow up!
From the opening scenes with Benjamin and his grandfather, to the icy scenes on and around Charlotte to the car chases in the streets, and the finale in church every sequence is well paced, often with a good mixture of dramatic tension and comedy. Nic Cage is an actor that tends to polarize opinion, but even those that aren't a fan of his will be pretty harsh to not enjoy this movie. The supporting cast is also superb with plenty of familiar faces including Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha as Benjamin's friends never letting the movie down.

Director Jon Turteltaub must be commended for keeping this movie going at a decent pace, and even with a runtime of 131 minutes the movie never feels slow or bogged down. Filming in real locations gives the movie an authenticity that was sadly lacking from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which was CG'd to death. There is some CG in National Treasure but it's minimal, and unobtrusive (take note George Lucas/Steven Spielberg).

National Treasure is a great movie for the entire family. While some of the historical locations may be lost on Australian children, the fast paced nature of the movie, and lack of graphic violence makes it a great experience for young and old. As we all know a sequel has been released (and will be on Blu-Ray soon), but there's no reason not to add this original to you Blu-Ray library.

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Stealing the Declaration of Independence.

In terms of video quality National Treasure is, as with almost every release from Disney, very impressive. Using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at 1080p in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 the transfer on this disc is, from the opening scenes, wonderful to look at. From the brilliant whites on the ice, to the darkest dungeons the colours and sharpness are fantastic with a decent amount of detail in the darker scenes as well.

To be honest there were some sections of this movie that looked a little washed out with inconsistent contrast levels. The vibrancy of some scenes is certainly below that of others. I'm not sure if that was an issue with the source material, but it could have done with some tweaking.

While a (very small) notch below Disney's best efforts there is no denying that this Blu-Ray presentation is vastly superior to that on the DVD with a sharpness and clarity that the old format simply can't get close to.

While there is a slight disappointment with the video (and we do mean slight), there are no such issues with the audio on this Blu-Ray transfer of National Treasure. Indeed National Treasure, packed with a English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, is a reference quality experience and vastly superior to the already impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448kbps track on the DVD release. Hook the National Treasure Blu-Ray disc up to good quality speakers and amplifier and you'll be blown away, as the nature of the film means there is plenty of aggressive use of surround sound channels and bass and the dialogue also remains crystal clear from start to finish. If there is one little niggle, it's that Disney could have been a little more aggressive in some of the surround sound use, however that is an issue with the source rather then the transfer.

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OK guys, time for a group pose!
There are four other languages on this disc. Portuguese, Russian and something we're not sure of to be honest. Each is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640kbps. A Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 640kbps is also included, although this track (unlike the other three languages) retains the English dialogue, and dubs over the top. Each of these four tracks is actually very impressive on a technical level and while the fidelity is down from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, but still more then acceptable.

Subtitles are provided in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, and a smattering of other languages including Chinese, Portuguese and Russian among others. Sampling the English track demonstrated accuracy from the dialogue on screen to the subtitle text.

National Treasure has been around for a couple of years now, and seen two releases on DVD. This Blu-Ray version comes to us as a Collector's Edition with all the extras from the DVD, and a Blu-Ray exclusive, being included.

Audio Commentary with Director Jon Turteltaub and Actor Justin Bartha: While Justin Bartha is a little annoying this remains an entertaining commentary with some pretty decent information about the production of National Treasure. Certainly not the best commentary we've heard, but it's not terrible either.

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Diane Kruger is hanging on, just!
Mission History: Inside the Declaration of Independence: This is a Java based interactive game of sorts. By scanning through the Declaration of Independence you will unlock key words which then unlock short documentaries and the like. To be honest it's a bit of work, and not really overly enjoyable.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Audio Commentary (16:04): A series of seven deleted and extended scenes with an optional director's commentary. The scenes are quite interesting, particularly as most are character, rather then action driven.

Opening Scene Animatic (2:51): With and optional commentary from Jon Turteltaub this shows the original opening idea. This is quite an interesting opening sequence, and worth a look.

Alternate Ending (1:50): Again with an optional Director's Audio Commentary this looks at the original ending which was also shot. The commentary explains why it was changed, and it's a change for the better in our opinion.

Ciphers, Codes, & Codebreakers (11:49/HD): A great little featurette about keeping secrets over thousands of years. This featurette is a little briefer then I hoped, but still welcome.

Exploding Charlotte (6:35): This featurette looks at blowing up the Charlotte for the movie.

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Checking out the Declaration of Independece.
To Steal A National Treasure (5:46): A look at the idea of sealing a national treasure such as the Declaration of Independence.

On the Set of American History (6:16): This brief featurette looks at the various historical locations where the movie was filmed including the National Archives, Washington Monument and Independence Hall which contains the Liberty Bell.

National Treasure On Location (11:20): A look at the various locations, both real and on-set, used during the filming of National Treasure.

Treasure Hunters Revealed (8:36): This featurette looks at the real-life treasure hunters from around the globe. Brief, but interesting.

The Templar Knights (5:00): A brief look at the Templar Knights, who they were, how they formed and what they had to do with this movie.

Trivia Track: Nothing out of the ordinary here this is a pop-up trivia track which plays during the movie with snippets about history and the production.

There have been a lot of Indiana Jones styled movies over the years, but none has come closer to capturing the spirit of adventure and excitement then National Treasure. From start to finish this movie will have you engrossed and in typical Disney fashion this Blu-Ray release looks and sounds superb. Throw in some new special features and this is certainly a disc worth upgrading from your old DVD version.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Walt Disney. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.