Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review of National Treasure: Book of Secrets"

"A man has only one life time. But history can remember you forever." - Jeb Wilkinson from "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"

And I just want to forget this crappy movie as soon as possible.

My wife Lisa developed a blood clot in her leg in the first part of December, and she has been mostly home bound with a few trips to the doctor and a two day stay at the hospital since then. Needless to say, she developed a terrible case of cabin fever, and with her leg healing and strength returning, we ventured out to see two films this weekend. The first film, "Juno" will be reviewed later, but in short, it was cute, fun and almost measured up to my high expectations, but fell just short.

The second was "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" and it failed miserably to measure up to my very low expectations.

Let me start this review by saying that while I have a BA in Film Studies, teach film at the business college and consider myself an educated film viewer, I still love a good stupid movie. Not stupid movies, GOOD stupid movies. The main defense of people that liked this film will be "Well, I can just turn off my brain and have fun at the movies. You can't. Not everything has to be "Citizen Kane".

To those people I give you the following: I paid money to view "Snakes on a Plane" at the 10:30pm sneak peek showing and loved every minute of it. From Samuel L. Jackson's immortal use of that infamous line "That's it! I've had it with these bleeping snakes on this bleeping plane!" to the giant snake eating a man while getting sucked out of the hole in the plane, to the genius use of "snake vision" and it all worked for me.

The defense rests your honor.

I like heist movies. I like treasure movies. I wore out several VHS tape copies of "Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark" when I was growing up. I even wanted to be an archeologist for a while while growing up. When I go into a movie like this, I don't ask for much. At least respect me as an audience member. No, let me reword that. At least respect me as a person that can think for himself. No, that's not it. At least respect me as a person whose brain is functioning slightly higher than that of a coma patient.

That's all I ask.

When a film has a very direct shot of a sign that says ""J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building," but still feels like they need to run text at the bottom of the screen that says "J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building", they feel that I as an audience member, can't tie my own shoes, or eat food that can't be sucked through a straw.

When Ben Gate's father (Jon Voight) says that once something is on the internet "There's no stopping it now", the filmmaker is telling me that I am lucky to even be sitting upright and still breathing without the help of a machine.

I teach my students that a good film begins with a good screenplay. That the script is the skeleton to a film's body. It gives structure, support and holds everything else together. Without a good screenplay, all the highly paid actors, the best cinematography, the tightest editing amount to nothing. In other words, you can put ribbons and bows on a pile of crap, but it's not a gift, it's still a pile of crap.

The screenwriters for "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" (yes, there was more than one person paid to write this crap) have the following gems on their resume:

The Sixth Day, I Spy, Charlie's Angels 2, Bad Boys 2 and The Shaggy Dog)

I want the writers to come back from strike as much as the next guy, but if it keeps guys like this out of work, it may be a fair trade off.

Hollywood seems to feel that since the invention of MTV and Michael Bay films, American audiences will love anything, providing it is pretty to look at and doesn't ask much of us. (Too many jokes to list here, so just insert your own)

This is a film that solves intricate puzzles that have existed for centuries in the amount of time it takes me to order a Big Mac at McDonalds. There is an amazingly silly scene where Ben opens a secret compartment built into the President of the United State's desk while his estranged girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) distracts a man who works at the White House, by pretending she lost an earring and asks for help finding it. She seals the deal by staring the man in the face, very obviously takes her earring off, palms it, and then asks him "We wouldn't want the First Lady to find an earring in the Oval Office that isn't hers, would we?"". That is what passes for clever screenwriting in this film. With the man oogling Abigail's cleavage while pretending to look for an earring in a couch she never was near, Ben seizes the moment to open the desks wooden drawers, with ancient metal gears grinding and shifting. Secret compartments pop open loudly, but through the power of Diane Kruger's figure, the white house employee never suspects a thing. Gates didn't get what he wanted, but it gave him the next convoluted plot device, I mean clue, and we are off to the next step of kidnapping the President! Wahoo!

At one point, Ben has a cell phone with a camera that doesn't work, so he runs a red light while holding an ancient wood carving in front of his face so that the traffic camera will take the picture for him. He then casually tells Riley (Justin Bartha)
to hack into the London traffic network and get a copy of the photo, email it to his dad's cell phone and then have his mother translate this ancient language for him. I have never been to London, but I can't imagine that photographs from their traffic cameras have high enough resolution to be resized to a small enough file to send to a cell phone and still be able to be read clearly.

This movie makes Mount Rushmore, nothing more than a way for the U.S. Government to cover up an ancient city of gold. A city of gold hidden beneath a river. A city of gold that has statues and pyramids that look like ancient Aztec or Mayan relics. A city that looks more like a crappy Aztec themed water park found in a rundown town that is twenty miles from the Interstate.

I can just imagine a poor director's assistant said to the director Jon Turteltaub "Why is an ancient South American Indian city in South Dakota?" and he replied "Because the Art Director thought these designs looked cooler! This is an action/adventure film! Logic or coherence be damned! If the audience is still sitting through this crap at this point, they will believe ANYTHING!"

I kept thinking of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film "Hobgoblins" and Crow T. Robot tells Mike to pretend to be the director and asks him "Were you on crack when you made this film? Say yes! Say yes!"

I could go on and on, but I want to finish this review in a shorter amount of time than it takes this film to end. You know, as quickly as the puzzles get solved in this film, it sure takes a long time to end. The best piece of advice I got in film school was "99.9% of films are too long" and a almost 2 1/2 hours, this film certainly qualifies. What should be a fun and distracting "popcorn" flick, instead comes to resemble Nicholas Cage's toupee: Ridiculous, unbelievable, and just sad.

"This doesn't make any sense." - Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage)

Amen Ben, I couldn't have said it any better.

Scoops out!


Anonymous said...

Oh man... You fell prey to the worst possible trap you could have with this movie: you took it seriously.

Too bad. I guess we'll just add this to the list of movies we can never, ever talk about, right behind "Bandits."


Sue London said...

We finally saw NT:BoS last Friday and although it stuns me that I know people who really, really like it, I didn't have the seriously bad reaction that you did. I never much cottoned to the original and for me the only redeeming feature of that one was the Riley character. Riley was back (I was afraid they would ditch him) and this one was, oh, a lot like I expected. They both seem a bit forced, you know? But their badness is such that I can't take them seriously enough to get het up about it.

I, however, agree with your position that there are "good" bad movies. Cheese that is satisfying. And that NT:BoS was more of the nasty Limburger variety.

Sue London said...

p.s. Sorry to hear about your wife's blood clot. Those can be very scary so I'm glad she is recovering well.