"Patriotic Historical Treasure Hunt"
NATIONAL TREASURE is a rollicking, witty adventure mystery starring Nicolas Cage as a contemporary Indiana Jones hero hunting clues to a treasure hidden for hundreds of years. Aimed at a mass audience with a PG rating, it’s also a family-friendly movie with a strong fascination and reverence for American history, especially the achievements of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The movie opens with a young boy, Benjamin Franklin Gates, exploring his father’s attic for a book about his family’s history. His grandfather arrives and tells Ben how one of their ancestors in 1832 was given a clue to hidden treasure by the last remaining Founding Father who signed the American Declaration of Independence. The treasure supposedly contains priceless artifacts from the Temple of Solomon and other treasures amassed by The Knights Templar during medieval times. Some believe the treasure made its way to the United States in the 1700s. Ben’s ancestors believe the treasure fell into the hands of some of the Founding Fathers who were also Freemasons and who cleverly hid the treasure from Great Britain. Ben’s father, Patrick Henry Gates, however, has given up believing in the treasure.
Thirty years later, Ben is leading an expedition to the Arctic Circle, where an old buried ship may hold clues to the treasure’s whereabouts. A pipe and a coded verse in the ship lead Ben to believe that the back of the original Declaration of Independence contains a map to the treasure. Ben thinks, however, that it would be impossible to get the government to let them look, and he tells his shady financial backer, Ian Howe, that very thought.
Ian’s solution is to propose stealing the Declaration of Independence. Ben and his friend Riley, a witty computer whiz, object, so Ian tries to kill them. Ian thinks he succeeds, but Ben and Riley survive.
Back in Washington, D.C., Ben and Riley try to tell the government about Ian’s plot, but the unimaginative, practical bureaucrats don’t believe his story. Ben decides that the only way to protect the Declaration is to steal it for himself and get the treasure before Ian gets hold of it. Thus begins an elaborate search for clues, which leads Ben, Riley and a skeptical female official at the National Archives on the adventure of a lifetime. Yapping at their heels, of course, are Ian and his evil henchmen, and the FBI.
As the clues pile up with no treasure in sight, Ben begins to wonder if his father isn’t right – that the clues were just a way for the Founding Fathers to keep the British occupied in a fruitless search for a hidden treasure that doesn’t really exist.
The title of this movie, NATIONAL TREASURE, is ironic. The real national treasure is not the riches amassed by secret societies like The Knights Templar and the Freemasons. The real national treasure is the Declaration of Independence and its ideals of liberty and justice for all.
Another treasure is the family bonds that Ben ultimately feels for his father and his ancestors. Besides hunting for physical treasures that may not exist, Ben sorely wants to redeem his family’s name, because countless “experts” and government bureaucrats have scoffed at the Gates family and its hunt for legendary treasure.
Many of the clues in the movie are revealed through the Declaration and at historical sites such as the Independence Hall complex in Philadelphia, where the Liberty Bell resides. Although the clues are affiliated with some well-known Masonic symbols and codes, the movie doesn’t extol any Masonic rituals or beliefs per se. Instead, the main goal of the clues is to excite viewers about the details of early American history, especially those surrounding the Founding Fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Still, viewers must be careful not to let the movie’s love for American history spill over into love for the mystical mysteries of the Freemasons and the Masonic Lodge, because the Masonic Lodge is a secret brotherhood that, among other things, waters down and contradicts the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian-Hebrew Scriptures. For example, some, if not many or most, Masons and Freemasons, especially those of higher degree, get involved in syncretistic and occult ideas, such as universal salvation and Jewish Kabbalism. To be on the safe side, it’s best for Christians not to associate with secretive groups like the Masons which allow people from other religions to become members and even leaders.
Here, it is also important to note that many New Agers and occultists like to appropriate and extol Masonic images and rituals, giving them a New Page, occult spin, much in the same way they often like to appropriate, extol, and distort Christian and Non-Christian images and rituals. For example, although both New Agers and a Christian like J.R.R. Tolkien use the Greek myth of Atlantis, the New Agers use it to venerate New Age ideas, but Tolkien uses it to venerate monotheistic and Christian ideas and moral ideals in his masterpiece, THE SILMARILLION. Discerning Christians must be careful, however, about mixing Non-Christian images, symbols, myths, and ideas with Christian ones. Christians must also be careful about diluting and distorting biblical theology.
The filmmakers behind NATIONAL TREASURE are definitely more interested in honoring early American history, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and ideals such as liberty, traditional family values, bravery, honor, patriotism, loyalty, and justice. Their movie also contains positive depictions of the FBI. There is, however, a slightly annoying, obliquely multicultural comment about ancient treasures belonging to the whole world and some very light moral relativism about stealing something valuable so that the villain cannot get it and eventually destroy it. On the other hand, the movie rebukes greed, celebrates American liberty (America’s gift to the world), and shows that a greater good is achieved and served.
Benjamin Franklin Gates is probably the most heroic and wholesome role Nicolas Cage has played so far. He does a great job. Newcomer Justin Bartha is extremely funny as Cage’s witty and humorous sidekick. If he chooses good projects, he could be a star, as could Diane Kruger (TROY), who is perfect as the smart, beautiful, and honorable heroine. Veteran actor Sean Bean (THE LORD OF THE RINGS and PATRIOT GAMES) is a strong, charismatic villain. Jon Voight turns in a warm, dignified performance as Ben’s caring, strong-willed father.
Jon Turteltaub does a wonderful job of keeping the story moving and managing all of the cinematic elements at his command. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is often falsely accused of creating bombastic action movies, but here he lets character and humor propel the story, and the action is thoroughly exciting, not bombastic or overly loud. Bruckheimer has produced many patriotic, MOVIEGUIDE® Award movies, including PEARL HARBOR, REMEMBER THE TITANS and ARMAGEDDON.
All in all, NATIONAL TREASURE provides loads of family-friendly fun. The adventure is exciting, the mystery is intriguing, the suspense is taut, and the humor is full and almost entirely squeaky clean (there is one joke, though, where Ben’s annoyed father wonders if Ben has gotten the heroine pregnant, and she turns to Ben’s friend and asks, “Do I look pregnant?”). Furthermore, the foul language is very light and minor, and there is no sex or nudity. Finally, the violence is not mean or gruesome, despite a few brief shots of human skeletons.
NATIONAL TREASURE is one of the best, most family-friendly movies of 2004. There’s at least one non-animated action movie this holiday season that parents shouldn’t be embarrassed to take their children to see. NATIONAL TREASURE is the one.
(BB, PPP, C, FR, PC, L, V, A, M) Strong moral worldview with very strong patriotic elements extolling the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence and liberty, with positive references to an historical Christian church in New York City and positive reference to the Temple that Solomon built for the ancient Israelites, and regrettably positive depiction of secretive Masonic symbols to hide and find buried treasure, but thankfully no syncretistic or occult Masonic ideology expressed, as well as slightly PC comment is made at the end that ancient treasures belong to the whole world, but this comment is only slightly annoying rather than very offensive; two light obscenities and five light exclamatory profanities such as “My God!” and “For God’s sale”; light action violence such as villains shoot at other men, explosion, guard stunned, chase scenes, man falls to his death, man jumps into ocean, threats of violence, heroes in jeopardy from unstable staircase, and some brief images of decayed human skeletons; no sex, but man flippantly asks son if he got heroine pregnant and heroine asks another man if she looks pregnant; no nudity; alcohol use; no smoking; and, some moral relativism where hero has to steal Declaration of Independence to protect it from villainous thief but a greater good is served by his actions, kidnapping, villain holds people hostage, greed rebuked, boy swears to be a knight, and comment is made that ancient treasures belong to the world.
GENRE: Action Adventure/Mystery
NATIONAL TREASURE is a rollicking, witty adventure mystery starring Nicolas Cage as a contemporary Indiana Jones hero hunting clues to a treasure hidden for hundreds of years. Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates. Ben’s family has been looking for clues to secret ancient treasure hidden by some of the Founding Fathers, led by the real Benjamin Franklin, who also happened to be Freemasons, a powerful, secret society. Ben discovers the Declaration of Independence may contain a map to the treasure. He has to steal the Declaration to keep it, and the treasure, out of the hands of the villain, a criminal mastermind.
Rated PG, NATIONAL TREASURE uses at least a couple Masonic symbols to help locate the treasure, but it avoids the occult, ritualistic, Non-Christian ideas of the Masons. Instead, the movie concentrates on honoring early American history, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and ideals such as liberty, traditional family values, bravery, honor, patriotism, loyalty, and justice. All in all, NATIONAL TREASURE provides loads of family-friendly fun. The actors are great, the adventure is exciting, the mystery is intriguing, the suspense is taut, and the humor is full and almost entirely squeaky clean.