National Treasure is still a fun adventure to be had some fifteen years after the adventure film was released in theaters in 2004.
The film asks us to imagine a map being on the back of the Declaration of Independence. It is a fun idea no matter how preposterous that the idea sounds. But before we get to this point, a young Benjamin Franklin Gates must learn the Gates family history. It turns out that an ancestor, Thomas Gates (Jason Earles), would be tasked with a secret by the last living signer of the Declaration, Charles Carroll. It turns out that the Freemasons protected the Knights Templar treasure. All we know from John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer) is that “The secret lies with Charlotte.” Ben’s dad, Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voigt), can only laugh off the idea of a treasure.
Flash forward to present day (2005?) as Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) gets close to finding the Charlotte, assisted by Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). It turns out that it’s a ship and what he finds is a clue in the form of a pipe. This next clue will take him to the Declaration of Independence. There’s a secret map on the back but being able to access it certainly will be easier said than done. Unfortunately for Gates, Ian Howe (Sean Bean) suggests stealing it and this is where they part ways. Gates and Riley inform the FBI only to not be taken seriously. Both of them head to the National Archives and meet with Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Unfortunately, she certainly doesn’t believe them either.
Something will have to give so Gates takes matters into his own hands. By choosing to protect the Declaration, Gates will have to steal the document. A chase with Ian’s team ensues and Abigail ends up joining both Gates and Riley. With his house not being an option, they go to his father’s house for the Silence Dogood letters. They find the hidden cipher but the letters have since been donated to the Franklin Institute. Hey, nobody ever said that finding a treasure would be easy! The journey now takes them to Philadelphia and the hidden message points them in the direction of Independence Hall.
Philadelphia is where history begins to merge with fiction. There happens to be a major problem with the film taking the idea of the time being shown on the $100 bill. The first such printing of the bill with the Independence Hall design wouldn’t be printed until 1929. On top of this, there was no clock as they make their way to the steeple. This change did not take place until 1828. All the clues were said to have been forgotten by the time that Carroll passed on the secret to the elder Gates. This doesn’t make the film any less of the fun adventure that it is but there are certainly some issues with the choices being made. One just needs to suspend their disbelief here to enjoy it.
Once Gates retrieves the glasses, it’s a whole new ballgame. “Heere at the Wall,” the coded message reads. To further hide the treasure, de Heere Straat–as it used to be named–would become Broadway. Fort Amsterdam was once located where present day Broadway meets Wall Street. What else is at this location? None other than Trinity Church. Again, there’s a major problem. The original church would be burned during the Great New York City Fire of 1776. It would be hard for such a fire to not destroy a shaft underground that is completely full of rotting wood. Again, please suspend the disbelief because there’s no reason to believe that the tombs–including Parkington Lane–would not have been destroyed. It leads to better enjoyment.
All in all, National Treasure is certainly no Indiana Jones but it’s still fun a ride.
DIRECTOR: Jon Turteltaub
SCREENWRITERS: Jim Kouf and Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, and Christopher Plummer