Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
2.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Street Date:
May 20th, 2008
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
April 24th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Length:
124 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Given the $350 million worldwide gross of 2004's 'National Treasure,' a sequel was a foregone conclusion. Then along came last year's 'National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets,' which defied all conventional wisdom regarding sequel profitability by actually outgrossing its predecessor by a cool $100 million. Add in some respectable reviews, the return of the entire cast from the first 'National Treasure,' and the injection of some fresh new ideas and faces, and you have the rare follow-up that -- if still not a great movie -- is in most ways an improvement over the original.

The adventure begins when treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is tipped off by Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) to a page from the diary of Lincoln's famous assassin, John Wilkes Booth, which allegedly links Ben's great-great grandfather to the plot. Of course, the page also includes embedded clues to a treasure map, which leads to an ancient city made entirely of gold.

Since Gates can never resist the lure of booty, he enlists his father Patrick (Jon Voight), faithful tech guru Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and, despite her protestations, his ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) to join him on his quest. The ensuing action stretches all the way from Washington DC, to Paris, to London, and finally to, of all places, South Dakota. Along the way there will be a few surprises, including duplicitous villains (all is not as it may appear!), as well as an appearance by Ben's mother (a welcome Dame Helen Mirren).

'National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets' telegraphs just about every one of its twists and turns, and since we're already familiar with the first 'National Treasure,' we know just what kinds of tricks and puzzle-solving Ben will use throughout his journey (this guy can see secret codes in a smudge). 'Book of Secrets' follows the well-worn template mined by any number of adventure films, stretching all the way back to the afternoon serials of the '50s -- quickly setting up the main quest, introducing the bad guy, adding a dash of romance, and underlining it all with a moral quest that has as much (if not more) to do with family honor than gold bullion. It may not be fresh, but it works.

'Book of Secrets' most obvious modern influence is, of course, the Indiana Jones movies, and if Cage as Ben Gates is no Harrison Ford, he makes a plausible and likeable Indy-lite. He's able to convince us immediately that, like Dr. Jones, he's really a do-gooder in mercenary clothing. Gates' mission in 'Book of Secrets' is not so much to find the gold city and what-not, but to clear his family name and, in the process, restore some respectability to the profession of archeology. This earnestness elevates the 'National Treasure' movies above most recent Indiana Jones rip-offs (case in point are the 'Mummy' movies, which seem like soulless theme park rides by comparison), and gives the action needed weight, so we don't just feel we're watching a bunch of bored actors miming in front of blue screens and being chased by CG creatures.

The cast memebers are all noticeably comfortable in their roles. Bartha in particular has really come into his own, bringing an impressive charisma to what should be the sidekick role (he actually has a much better character arc than the lead he's supporting), and Kruger manages to bring a real spark to her sparring with Cage. Though I've always considered Voight's character a stiff, Mirren has great fun in the role of Ben's mom, and as always, classes things up considerably. Even Harris manages to add spice to what would otherwise be a dull, standard-issue villain role.

Truth be told, 'Book of Secrets' is formulaic to the point of being a tad plodding in spots (perhaps hopping one location too many), and at times the historical details fly by so fast I had to hit the rewind button just to keep up, but the slick visuals, snappy pacing, fun performances, and sense of jovial derring-do ultimately win out. 'Book of Secrets' actually improves upon the original 'National Treasure' for me because it just feels tighter, and with less of the rough edges. It's a fun, highly enjoyable sequel and the perfect Saturday-night Blu-ray.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'National Treasure: Book of Secrets' is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, and framed at 2.40:1. It's a generally strong presentation, though I found a aspect lacking.

The positives are many. The source is predictably pristine, with excellent sharpness and detail. The image is flush with depth, and rarely looks like anything but sparkling, three-dimensional high-def. Colors are likewise well saturated if a bit processed, which gives fleshtones a slightly artificial cast. The palette is also tweaked towards orange, so don't expect a particularly realistic-looking transfer.

Blacks are less impressive. While deep, shadow detail falters due to a heavy black crush. I also noticed some motion artifacts, with ringing on some sharp lines. Compression artifacts are not a problem, except for a smidgen of noise on some of the most saturated hues. Still, if 'Book of Secrets' isn't a perfect presentation, it's quite attractive.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Disney departs from their usual PCM presentation to go for an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) on 'Book of Secrets.' It's a fine mix, one suitably polished if not quite as aggressive as I expected.

Certainly, this is a dynamic and polished track. The deep low bass and sweet, powerful highs ring out from the front speakers with great impact. Dialogue isn't overwhelmed by all the action, so volume issues aren't apparent. Surround use, however, isn't always sustained. Discrete effects definitely make their presence known, but I could have used more generalized atmosphere, as well as improved integration of the score. At loud volumes, however, 'Book of Secrets' does make more of an impression, but sometimes subtlety sings loudest.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Book of Secrets' hits Blu-ray and DVD day-and-date, and it comes with a wealth of extras. Disney has also bumped up all the video extras to full 1080 resolution, so they look great, too. (Optional subtitles are provided on all of the supplements in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese.)

  • Audio Commentary - Director Jon Turteltaub is joined by actor Jon Voight for a lively if technical chat. Turteltaub occasionally goes on and on (and on) about setting up a shot or some uninteresting production hurdle that had to be surmounted, but when he and Voight get into the story and the cast, it's much more interesting. There's still a workmanlike feel to the comments, however, as 'Book of Secrets' is a popcorn movie with little substance, so don't expect much meat on this track.
  • Documentary: "Secrets of a Sequel" (HD, 59 minutes) - This eight-part doc has a promotional feel, but its sheer slickness elevates it to the category of highly watchable. The segments start off with "Secrets of a Sequel" (7 minutes) which introduces Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and shows how the project got off the ground. "On Location" (10 minutes) gives a tour of the main location setpieces, and also introduces the cast, including Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight, and Helen Mirren. "Street Stunts" (10 minutes) goes inside the film's major setpiece, the London Chase. "Inside the Library of Congress" (9 minutes) details the massive, fully-constructed set. "Underground Action" (7 minutes) goes deep into the dank tunnels of the film's climax. "Cover Story" (5 minutes) details how they created the President's Book prop that's key to the film's action. And finally, "Evolution of a Golden City" (10 minutes) features screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberley, who discuss the inspiration behind the Golden City location, as well as the set design and visual effects used to realize the sequence.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 20 minutes) - There are seven scenes in all (two exclusive to the Blu-ray). They're introduced by comments from Turteltaub, who explains in detail what was snipped and why. There are a few good extensions here, some that looked awfully expensive with big sets and locations. Nothing here is essential, but still worth a watch.
  • "The Treasure Reel" (HD, 5 minutes) - Your standard bloopers and outtakes reel. Mildly amusing.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD) - Finally, Disney includes trailers for 'Tinker Bell,' 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Wall•E' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (which according to the promo is coming to Blu-ray this Fall).

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are two features exclusive to the high-def version, including one that makes particularly unique use of the Blu-ray format's interactive capabilities.

  • "Book of History: Fact and Fiction of National Treasure" (HD) - Not a picture-in-picture commentary as you might expect, "Book of History" is actually a combination of branching video integrated into the main feature, combined with an interactive, graphic-based game. Activate the feature, and as the film progresses, icons will appear that, when activated, will take you to short vignettes about the history behind the movie. Meanwhile, questions will appear at random that you must answer, based on what you've watched. By the end of the movie, you have to answer enough questions right to earn a big score and maybe a surprise or two. It's fun, if a bit of a slog -- luckily, Disney offers the option to save your progress, so you don't have to complete it all in one sitting.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD) - This Blu-ray includes two bonus deleted scenes that are not on the standard DVD -- however, they're integrated into the main Deleted Scenes featurette (described in the standard-def supplements above). Nothing special, but nice of Disney to add a little bonus for us Blu-ray fans.

Easter Eggs

Thanks to tips from numerous readers, we've found three eggs (so far) in 'National Treasure: Book of Secrets.'

All three eggs can be found on the Special Features submenu. To find the first, highlight the "On Location" prompt, then hit Right and Up on your remote. An icon will appear, and click Enter, which takes you to a short making-of clip of the film's White House effects shot.

The second egg can be found by highlighting the "Street Stunts" prompt, then clicking Right twice. The icon's eyes will light up, then click Enter to watch a short demonstration of a car rig.

Finally, the third egg can be accessed by selecting "Highlight Evolution," then hit Right once on your remote. This will show a short vignette on shooting the City of Gold sequence.

Final Thoughts

'Book of Secrets' is a fun, totally enjoyable popcorn flick. It lacks some of the freshness of the original, but the cast members know their characters inside and out and the ease of familiarity seals the deal. This Blu-ray is pretty strong, with good video and audio and a ton of extras. It's not absolutely top-tier, but I think fans will still be satisfied.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes

Exclusive HD Content

  • Interactive Game
  • Additional Deleted Scenes

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