The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

We’re Doomed: National Treasure

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

The cultural wasteland surrounding National Treasure 

ImageAfter seeing National Treasure, it is now clear to me that I will never become a successful screenwriter.

I am so depressed.
I guess part of the fault is mine; I did, after all, go to see National Treasure, of all possible movies out there. As much as I enjoy films that challenge my artistic and intellectual self, there are some times that I just want to go to the theater, eat some popcorn, and watch a fun show where stuff blows up. I am, after all, a guy. In this case, there was no question what I was getting into. While the concept of National Treasure is undeniably cool – our founding fathers hid clues in the Declaration of Independence that lead to a vast treasure – it is still a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Starring Nicholas Cage. Rated PG. Clearly, this is a movie meant for the masses at holiday time.

So I knew in advance what I was going to see. However, even I had no idea just how low the cultural barometer had fallen.

For the record, it is not the movie National Treasure that has left me this bereft of hope for my own literary future. It was exactly what I expected it to be; a clever concept that necessarily devolves by the end into every other action/treasure hunt movie in existence. I might even have enjoyed it more if not for what happened before it began – the previews.

Like many of my friends, I spend a lot of time dreaming up stories and concepts that might one day make good films. We talk and write to each other, collaborating on scripts, and all fully expect that one of us will hit it big one day and be able to help out the others. I have always known that this pattern of thought was imperfect, but I always figured that the inherent flaw in our plan was that it relied too much on optimism and good fortune. I can now tell you, after watching teasers for a full slate of upcoming films, that I was wrong. The error in my and my friends hopes for the future is not that it relies on luck, but rather that it relies on talent. Some examples:

• A comedy starring Ice Cube as a “playa” with a kickass car, who falls for a woman with two deviously clever children. These children are hellions to their mother’s potential suitors, and when Ice Cube agrees to take them to the airport, they cause him to arrive late and miss the flight. Desperate to win over their mom, he drives them to where they’re going instead, setting into motion wacky road hijinks that ruins the car.

• A computer-animated movie about robots, featuring a wackier-than-ever Robin Williams as a robot who keeps losing limbs (his arms fall off, and then they wrestle!!! Get it??), and female robots with really large asses.

• A fish-out-of-water comedy starring Vin Diesel as a tough-as-nails secret agent who is forced to take an assignment taking care of kids! Instead of cleaning guns, he cleans buns! Instead of driving tanks, he drives mini-vans!! He turns suburbia upside-down!!!)

Please understand that these previews, in themselves, did not cause me to doubt my ever finding success in the movie business. As long as there have been movies, there have been bad movies, and as anyone who has read this Web site can attest, I am actually quite fond of those particular films. The problem that I found was with the reaction of the audience who saw National Treasure with me. These people ate this shit up.

Again, I know that I should perhaps take this with a grain of salt, since seeing a PG rated action movie the weekend before the holiday season is bound to bring out a massive number of families and kids; two particular demographics not known for their erudition and eclecticism. However, as these previews played on the screen, I repeatedly had to look around the theater to make sure, with my own eyes, that people were really laughing at this dreck as heartily as it seemed. And they were.

During the Ice Cube preview, there is a moment when the kids start driving the car without him in it. In desperation, he jumps into the sunroof of the car, so his legs are splayed out the top. The kids then drive the car into a giant statue of Paul Bunyan, the impact of which jars lose his axe and makes it fall…directly between Cube’s legs. A completely formulaic, inane, and absurd concept … which caused pandemonium in the theater. Those who weren’t laughing were making that sympathetic “oooh” sound that comes from watching someone get it in the nards. I thought I was on another planet.


“I am an anthropologist! I am an expert with ancient documents! And I am featured in the wet dreams of academicians AND teenagers the world over!”

As soon as the Vin Diesel preview started, I could clearly see the board meeting the resulted in its getting greenlit. “Vin Diesel … as a secret agent … working in the suburbs! He’s tough, but he has to be soft! It’s brilliant, and it’s NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!” The jokes revealed in this trailer were so lame and predictable that I was writing them in my head as the scenes were playing out before my eyes, and this is not a compliment to me. Suffice to say that there were TWO smelly diaper jokes within the 90-second preview, and there were enough audible utterances of “I have to see that” when it ended to make me sick to my stomach

There was also, incidentally, a teaser promo for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which elicited no laughs, a few coughs, and some audible questions about what that was all about. Even though the thing was unclear and somewhat inscrutable, this still made me even madder, because the trailer – based on the classic series of novels by Englishman Douglas Adams – is wacky, bold and subtle all at once. It’s filled with oblique jokes that made me, a fan of the books, giddy with excitement and that should, in an ideal world, pique the curiosity of people who knew nothing about the books. In short, it’s a well-crafted trailer aimed at people who enjoy good movies and good books, and most of the audience I was with did not get it. That sucks.

My larger point is that my friends and I, not to mention thousands of other aspiring writers in the world, are all trying to create stories and films that will set the world on fire. For people like us, Citizen Kane is the starting point. We don’t want to make merely good films, we all want to make the best ones. To that end, we pore over story and character ideas, throw out far more words than we keep, and create countless drafts of scripts that will never get seen by anyone with the power to get it made with adequate money to do them justice. And yet shit like this is getting made. What’s worse, it seems clear that this shit is exactly what the people want. I know this now, because I watched them lap it up. I don’t honestly know if I could consciously create something this banal, which is why I realized that my work was doomed to obscurity before it even gets out of my head. Vin Diesel changing diapers prompts whoops and cheers while a cool trailer based on a good book prompts nothing but bewilderment.

By the time the movie started, I had lost all faith in humanity.

Having said all this, National Treasure is a pretty good movie, for what it is. Nicholas Cage stars as one of a family of treasure hunters, tracking down the aforementioned horde. His team is able to determine that the Declaration of Independence is the key to the puzzle, and when he refuses to steal the document to take the hunt further, half his team turns on him and leaves him for dead. Surprisingly, he escapes, and he and his sidekick start a game of cat-and-mouse in many of our country’s oldest cities, dealing with our most famous landmarks. (Note on the sidekick: have you ever watched a movie like this, and continually rolled your eyes in embarrassment as you endured the annoying antics of the sidekick? Did you wonder to yourself why this person could possibly have been put into the movie, since they aren’t funny, and only serve to make an implausible premise even less believable? Well, if you have ever thought this, you should have been in my theater with me, as this audience of mine laughed at every single one of this guy’s little “jokes.”) As the hunt goes on, it ends up involving an expert on ancient artifacts and documents who just happens to be a woman good looking enough to get cast as Helen of Troy. Luckily, when they find the treasure in the end (Oh NO! I hope I didn’t ruin this for you!) they are able to do so in such a way that no one gets killed (except for one bad guy in such a way that you never see any blood, or a body), all the good people are rewarded and the bad people punished, and of course, Nicholas Cage gets Helen of Troy (they even end with a very vague allusion that the two of them will have sex, though this is done in such a way that you understand that they are a couple, and you are left to think that they might even be married). For my money, the most fun part of National Treasure was watching a friend of mine from school show up as one of Harvey Keitel’s federal agents. Because of him, and despite the people I was forced to share oxygen with, I stayed until the end and cheered the credits.

And just to keep things current, here's the trailer for the sequel to this mess, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

In conclusion, National Treasure is a good time, provided you are not looking for anything nearly as clever as you hope it will be. If you just want a good popcorn flick, or just can’t get enough of Jon Voight overacting, then by all means go and enjoy (and be sure to clap and holler whenever Agent Hendricks comes on screen). Just do yourself a favor, and skip the previews.