National Treasure

(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)


The Incredibles

(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)

     I decided to see America's top two movies at the box office this weekend, as a double-bill. No, not Alexander and Christmas with the Kranks, and not Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Those four films came in 6th, 3rd, 7th and 5th this holiday weekend. No, the movies that everyone wants to see, that are number one and two at the box office, are National Treasure and The Incredibles. The Incredibles has been out for 4 weeks and has already grossed $215 million. National Treasure, number one the last two weeks, has already grossed $88 million. These films couldn't be more different in their receptions by the movie critics. The Incredibles is the latest animated production from Pixar and has been lauded by the critics. It has an amazing 177 out of 184 positive reviews on Rotten TomatoesNational Treasure is a dumbed down Da Vinci Code which has been lambasted by the critics. By comparison, Rotten Tomatoes lists only 56 out 137 reviews as positive for this movie. I'm here to say that the movie critics (other than me) are only half right while the theatre goers got it all right.

    I'll start with the easy one. The Incredibles comes from Pixar and everything that comes from Pixar (so far at least) has been great. I'm talking about Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. For my rare demographic, the "sinks" (single income, no kids), The Incredibles is the best Pixar movie yet. I often nod off in the middle of these animated "classics." I appreciate them but I get a little bored in the middle. But The Incredibles held my interest for its almost 2 hour running time. It tells the story of two superheroes, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who, in the course of their crime fighting, meet and fall in love. They get married and have 3 kids who also have superpowers.  But a la X-Men, there is bad feeling against these "special" people. The superheroes are banned and placed in a witness protection program. Elastigirl becomes a housewife and Mr. Incredible is in a dead-end job. After a while, Mr. Incredible can't stand it any longer. He and his best friend and ex-superhero, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) start crime-fighting on their guys nights out. But the whole Incredible family is forced back into the business when a super-villain starts finding and killing off all the superheroes.

    Unlike some other Pixar offerings, the animation itself is not the main selling point of The Incredibles, although it has all the bells and whistles. The strength of The Incredibles is in its strong story and characters. Added to this, is a nice sort of retro look of the animation. The movie looks a bit like an old Saturday morning cartoon. And it's a fun idea for a plotline, although, I have to say, that by the end, The Incredibles gets a bit too much like Spy Kids. The credit for doing something a bit different goes to Brad Bird, who trained as a Disney animator, and then directed the well-received, but box-office bomb, The Iron Giant. It's hard to talk about acting in these things but Holly Hunter does a great job with the voice of Elastigirl. The best supporting character is Edna Mode who designs the super-costumes for The Incredibles. She is voiced by the director, Bird, and is based closely on Edith Head, the famous Hollywood costume designer. There's a great running joke concerning why she won't design a costume with a cape for Mr. Incredible.

    Now, the harder sell. The story of National Treasure follows a family who believe that a huge treasure, found by the Knights Templar during the Crusades, has been hidden by the Free Masons for centuries.  Several of the Masons were also signers of the Declaration of Independence. Anyway, the secret of the treasure's location was lost except for a series of clues left by the Founding Fathers, including, as you must know by seeing the Trailer, a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. The Gates family, which has been pursuing the treasure for two hundred years, is represented by three generations played by Christopher Plummer, Jon Voight and Nicolas Cage. Cage has two partners (Justin Bartha and Sean Bean) in the search.  Bean breaks with Cage and tries to double cross him and get the treasure for himself. Into the mix are thrown a brainy but beautiful archivist who is German but is named Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and an FBI agent (Harvey Keitel) who want to get the Declaration of Independence back. There's a lot of other stuff involving a ship locked in the ice in the Arctic and, of course, the Silence Dogood letters. They are real by the way.

     I feel that some how the movie critics don't "get" National Treasure. This film is an action/adventure film in the same way that Armageddon is an action/adventure film. Sure, there's lots of action and adventure, but these films also satirize the whole genre. Obviously, a goofy group of oil-drillers can't train as astronauts in one week and then save the world. But who cares? It's so fun to watch them do it. National Treasure is in the same vein. These movies are guilty pleasures. And after all the seriousness associated with The Da Vinci Code, I think it's long overdue. The plot of National Treasure is no more far-fetched, but it is played out at the correct level of seriousness. So, think of National Treasure as a goofball romantic comedy and you may enter the theatre with the right level of expectations. You'll be rooting for Cage et al. to figure out the clues and finally find the treasure.

    The Executive Producer of National Treasure is Jerry Bruckheimer, who has produced so many successful movies and TV shows, I won't even try to list them. One of them was Armageddon. The director is also an old pro, Jon Turtletaub, who directed Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, and Phenomenon.  The delicious plot of National Treasure is played out very nicely by a cast that knows how to play it straight and not straight simultaneously. I love Nicolas Cage. In a role like this, he really is the Everyman. You gotta love him. Sean Bean is turning into a great Cinema Villain. He has been a good guy in a lot of films, but he really shines as a bad guy in movies like Patriot Games, GoldenEye, and The Lord of the Rings. Diane Kruger, who just had to stand there and look beautiful as Helen in Troy, gets to do something in National Treasure. And she can act too! She joins a venerable list of gorgeous screen Ph.D.'s with the likes of Helen Hunt in Twister, Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession, Sigourney Weaver in Half Moon Street, and Jodie Foster in Contact. And the incomparable Harvey Keitel plays a beautiful riff off of Harvey Keitel playing an FBI agent. He plays himself very well and with a lot of humor. And Jon Voight played Lara Croft's father in Tomb Raider so he was ready for this role.

   As you can tell, I liked both these movies. They are a lot of fun. If you can suspend your disbelief for The Incredibles, surely you can do the same for National Treasure. It looked a little bleak for the holiday movies this year but here's a couple to enjoy. It makes for a great night at the movies, especially since I snuck into the second movie for free.