Saturday, June 7, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets -- honor your family

It seems everybody loves a good conspiracy theory. And director Jon Turtletaub is counted among them. He uses this in the plot for National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the sequel to the very popular 2004 Disney hit.

When Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) announces that he has a missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary damning treasure hunter Ben Gates' (Nicolas Cage) ancestor as one of the conspirator's in President Lincoln's assassination, the gauntlet is thrown down. This conspiracy casts dishonor on Gates himself as well as his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). Although he is not the person of his great great relative, Gates feels stigmatized: "We cannot have him remembered as a conspirator in the assassination of the man that brought this nation together. "

Gates uses the analogy of Dr Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth's broken ankle and was later sentenced to life in prison, to galvanize his father and friends. He states that Mudd was later thought to be innocent, yet he became the source of the saying, "his name is mud." However, this is inaccurate, since the saying predates Dr Mudd, and was in use in Britain in 1820, 45 years before Lincoln's death. Nevertheless, Gates' version makes for a better narrative.

Bringing back together the team from the first movie, Riley (Justin Bertha) and love-interest Abigail (Diane Kruger), Ben also has to call in his mother, Emily (Oscar-winner Helen Mirren). The action adventure is fast-paced and spans the globe, with scenes in Paris, London, Washington DC and South Dakota. One car chase scene in the streets and back alleys of London stands out for sheer excitement.

As in other movies in this genre, one must suspend disbelief to enjoy the ride. It is totally implausible that a treasure-hunter, even with a techno-geek foil like Riley, could break into the office of the queen in Buckingham Palace escape the country and then kidnap the President of the United States of America and get away with it. If the secret service was as poor as they appear here, we would be seeing a new president every other week. But that aside, to decipher the code and find the treasure Gates and crew have to go these cinematic locations and solve the clues without getting caught, else there is no story.

The major issue with Book of Secrets is that the bad guy Wilkinson is really not that bad. This is a Disney movie and there is no violence or killing. Although Wilkinson hires thugs to chase and shoot at Gates, no one really gets hurt. And in the end, Wilkinson wants the same thing as Gates -- a name for his family. At the climax when he finally threatens to kill Abigail, he cannot do it. He is too nice, too refined. And he ends up getting what he wants but at a huge cost.

Book of Secrets is a thrill ride, for sure. Not in the same realm as the Indiana Jones trilogy (and I can't wait to see and review the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in June), yet it is an exciting movie that you can watch with your children. It is a perfect example of the scriptural injunction: "Honor your father and your mother" (Exod. 20:12). One of the ten commandments given to Moses, we are commanded to honor the names of our parents, and presumably those of our ancestors. As Gates sees a clear need to give 100% to the cause of clearing his ancestor's name, so we need to be committed to honoring those of our lineage. And hopefully, we will not be called on to break into the oval office to do so!

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

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