Gotta Do Crazy Things to Protect American History

National Treasure

I love these movies for the history.  They also feature an all-star cast.  Nicholas Cage leads as Benjamin Franklin Gates, Diane Kruger (you may recognize her as Helen from Troy) is Abigail Chase.  Jon Voight is Ben’s father, Patrick Gates.  The ever diabolical Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Patriot Games, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) is Ian Howe.  Christopher Plummer (we sadly lost him recently, but he will forever be Captain Von Trapp) is the grandfather, John Adams Gates.  And if some of the FBI guys look familiar: Sandusky is Harvey Keitel (Sister Act, the bad guy) and Agent Johnson is Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer in Supernatural).  And that is David Dayan Fisher (Trent Kort, not a very good guy in NCIS, and he’ll appear briefly as another baddie in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear) as Shaw. 

Helen Mirren joins the party for Book of Secrets, as does Ed Harris (funny note; he played Beethoven in Copying Beethoven along with Diane Kruger) as Mitch Wilkinson.  Agent Spellman is played by Alicia Coppola (who has been in several television series, including JAG, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Castle, and MacGyver).  Yes, that is Bruce Greenwood (Admiral Pike in the newer Star Trek movies) as the President, and William Brent (or Billy Unger, he was my favorite character, Chase in Lab Rats) as the young Charles Gates.

Grandfather John Adams Gates tells young Benjamin Franklin Gates about their family history; in 1832, the last signer of the Declaration of Independence was dying.  He had his driver, Thomas Gates, take him to the White House to see President Andrew Jackson, so he could pass along important information.  But the President was out.  So he whispered it to young Thomas instead.  There is a treasure beyond all imagination, collected over the centuries, hidden in America.  The Knights Templar discovered it in vaults beneath Solomon’s Temple and smuggled it out.  They eventually became the Freemasons and members included prominent Founding Fathers, such as Paul Revere, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.  The old man’s dying words to Thomas were “the secret lies with Charlotte.”  Sadly, he had no clue what that meant, but the Gates men pass it down through the years.  Patrick interrupts story time, but John “knights” Ben before he leaves.

Fast forward to a more present day expedition in the Arctic Circle.  Ben’s theory is proven correct, Charlotte refers to a ship.  Ian is his investor and accompanies him below deck once they uncover the ship.  The skeletal captain is guarding one barrel in particular; Ben digs out a package, revealing a carved pipe.  Ben rubs blood over the carvings and rolls the pipe, revealing the next clue.  He works out the phrasing and figures out that there is an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  Ian speaks up that he has a grey past and he can arrange to steal the Declaration.  Ben opposes the idea, so Ian has Shaw threaten to shoot him.  Well, Ben lights a flare in a room full of gunpowder, then dives for cover with Riley.  (Great guys, you just destroyed a historical artifact.) 

Now, Ben and Riley have to stop Ian.  They try to leave a tip with the FBI, but they’re dismissed.  Ben figures they need someone passionate about historical documents, so he heads to the National Archives and meets Abigail Chase [fun fact, she is part German like her character].  They bond briefly over her collection of Washington campaign buttons, but she still does not believe “Mr. Brown” (the name Gates has poor standing in the academic community).  Ben is then inspired by a line from the Declaration that means if one has the ability, they have the responsibility to take action against something wrong.  So, the only way they can protect the Declaration from Ian is to steal it.  Riley takes Ben to the Library of Congress to prove that Ben cannot, but Ben knows of a way they can.  If they use the upcoming Archives Gala as a distraction, raise the heat sensors in the casing so the document is in the preservation room, it will be far easier to sneak the document out.

Riley sets up his equipment, Ben sends Abigail the remaining campaign button she requires (dipped in a solution that will dye keys).  Ben sneaks into the event as maintenance, but switches to a tux so he can give a glass of champagne to Abigail, so he can retrieve her fingerprint.  Meanwhile, Ian and his crew use explosives and such to sneak into the lower levels.  So far, Ben’s plan is working, until he runs into Ian.  Ian starts shooting.  Ben takes a slight detour through the gift shop where there are reproductions of the Declaration for sale.  Ian’s entrance is discovered and security is alerted.  Abigail begins to suspect “Mr. Brown” and follows him outside.  Ben tries to get away, but now has to chase after Ian, who has grabbed Abigail.

Ian ends up with the reproduction, but Ben had to use a credit card to pay for it, so he can’t return to his house.  He heads for his father’s, letting Abigail know he is actually Gates, not Brown.  And the FBI start investigating, Sandusky as lead.  They had received a tip about the Declaration being stolen, but it wasn’t deemed credible, so no file was open.  Patrick Gates is not thrilled with Ben showing up at his house and still does not believe in the treasure.  He thinks it was a myth to distract the British.  But Ben carries on and Abigail helps him rub lemon juice onto the back of the Declaration.  Ink is revealed.  There are sets of numbers, creating a cipher.  Ben asks his dad for the Silence Dogood letters; written by Benjamin Franklin at fifteen under a pseudonym.  They used to have the letters, hidden in a desk, but Patrick has now donated them to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  Ian has also figured this out.

While Ben and Abigail change out of their party clothes, Riley hires a boy on a field trip to retrieve the letters from the cipher. Ian eventually notices the boy, but doesn’t catch Riley.  The clue leads to the Liberty Bell and its original housing, at Independence Hall.  They need to be standing at the right spot at the right time to find the next clue.  (I love seeing the singing room…it reminds me of 1776 [because no doubt they filmed there])  Ben retrieves a pair of spectacles, invented by Franklin.  “Heere at the Wall” with a Celtic cross is revealed.  And they catch sight of Ian’s goons.  They split up and split their pieces up; Ben has the glasses, Riley and Abigail have the document.  A chase begins in Philadelphia and Abigail almost gets hit by a truck, and loses the document to Ian.

The FBI intercepts Ben at his car, though Riley and Abigail get away.  Abigail has an idea to get Ben out of custody, though it means working with Ian.  Ben is to meet Shaw at the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York, then jumps over the side so he can meet with Ian at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, at Trinity Church.  The glasses have different colored lenses that can be combined to read different parts of the map. 

Now, they venture into the crypts beneath the church, joined by Patrick, who was captured by Ian’s men.  There is an ancient shaft they discover, leading lower.  But the years have rotted the structure and it falls apart on them.  Shaw plunges to his death and Ben and Abigail almost join him.  Ben had to drop Abigail so he could save the Declaration, but there was a landing below her; and she would have done the same thing.  Riley would have dropped both crazy people.  Ian insists they continue.  They find another chamber, but it is small and empty.  Patrick makes up a clue regarding the lanterns and sends Ian and his goon to the Old North Church in Boston.  That was just to buy him and his son time.  Ben finds another door to another chamber, but it is still empty.  Ben despairs.  He really thought he was going to find it.  Patrick points out that Ben has followed all the clues; they’ve led this far, they’ve worked, which means the treasure was real.  Ben ponders that there has to be another way out, in case of cave in.  The pipe comes in handy again and turns another door leading to a larger chamber.  A torch lights a line of oil revealing the treasure [the music almost sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean for a moment, considering Brukheimer was producer on both].  There are scrolls from the Library at Alexandria (drool), Roman and Egyptian artifacts.  And oh look, stairs!  (Riley cries).

Back topside, they call the FBI and Ben hands the Declaration over to Sandusky.  It is not a bargaining chip.  He would really like to not go to prison; maybe Sandusky will take a bribe.  How ’bout ten billion dollars?  Sandusky points out Masonic teaching states that it should not all go to one man; he is sympathetic to Ben.  Ben agrees, it should be split between various museums; it belongs to the people and the world should see it.  Credit goes to the Gates family, along with Abigail Chase and Riley Poole.  And if you really want to arrest someone, he knows someone who is breaking into Old North Church.  [So Sean Bean doesn’t die in this movie, but he does go to prison].

Riley spends his minuscule percentage on a Ferarri, while Ben buys a historical house; and starts a relationship with Abigail.

Book of Secrets starts on April 14th, 1865 in Washington D.C., five days after the end of the Civil War [which puts this prologue close to the prologue of Sahara].  Thomas Gates is hired to decode a message, at the same time that John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln.  Thomas hears the commotion and realizes who has asked him to find the lost city of gold.  He attempts to burn the page, but is shot for his trouble.  His son, Charles is watching, but spared.  Thomas is able to pass the phrase “the debt that all men pay” to his son.  Another time jump to Ben giving a lecture on this event.  A man in the audience comes forward with the missing page from the Booth diary, and claiming that Thomas Gates was a co-conspirator in the assassination since his name was listed in the diary.  Ben is now determined to clear his ancestor’s good name. 

Except, he and Abigail are split at the moment so he tries to sneak in to gain access to the page.  She allows him to run scans on the page (they negotiate furniture) and they discover residual ink from the opposing page.  The FBI agents are thrilled that Gates is in hot water, but Sandusky points out that they need to know why Wilkinson has come forward with the page now.

The residual ink shows some of Thomas’s work and Patrick recalls “the debt that all men pay,” that was passed down from his grandfather Charles.  This breaks the cipher to Laboule Lady; referring to the man who created the Statue of Liberty.  There is a smaller version in Paris that he referred to as his lady.  Riley uses a drone to capture an inscription on the flame and Ben charms French security to translate the message.  This leads them to the Resolute desks and Ben heads to Buckingham Palace.

Wilkinson attacked Patrick at night so he could clone his phone so he can keep abreast of the search.  Abigail has also shown up at Buckingham Palace and will unknowingly put a wrench into Ben’s plan, so he stages an argument with her so they are escorted to lockup.  This leads them to a service elevator so they can see the desk in the queen’s apartments [the desks are not actually identical and the queen does not actually use the Resolute desk, but it’s cool for the movie].  The desks are actually puzzles and are hiding a carved plank.  Ben gets the plank out of the palace, but they’re pursued by Wilkinson.  Ben tosses the plank after he gets a picture of it.

Now, they need it deciphered.  And his mother happens to be an expert on that language, though estranged from his father.  She teaches at the University of Maryland.  She is pleased to see Ben and Abigail, but snips at Patrick.  They think one of the symbols means Cibola, the City of Gold.  A more accurate translation is simply the Center of the World, or Sacred Temple.  And they’re missing half of the plank anyways.  Which means, Ben has to break into the Oval Office to look at that Resolute desk.  Abigail’s new boyfriend is their ticket in and she stages a kissing session with him so Ben can find the plank.  Except it’s not there, just a stamp.

Riley knows what that stamp means; he wrote a book on it (which doesn’t sell well and his friends haven’t read it yet).  It’s the President’s secret book; written by Presidents, for Presidents only and filled with every conspiracy America has.  Sandusky can tell Ben, outside of the FBI office, that the book does in fact exist, but only the sitting President knows where it is.  And, you guessed it, Ben has to talk to the President.  But away from everyone.  So he manages to get the President’s birthday party moved to Mount Vernon where Ben know there are secret passages.  One of these days, he’ll wear his tux to a party he is actually invited to.  But he does get the President interested in his map written by George Washington.  The door shuts on the passage, sealing the President away from Secret Service.  Ben will show him the way out regardless, but does ask about the book.  Once they’re outside, the President gives Ben the clues he needs to find the book, but he has to hurry, Ben is now the target of a federal manhunt for kidnapping the President.  Oh, and if he has a moment, check out something on page forty-seven.

Ben meets Riley and Abigail at the Library of Congress and they head for the special collections.  The call number is the combination to reveal the book.  He gets a picture of what he needs, sending Riley and Abigail ahead when the FBI shows up.  There’s a brief car chase where Ben has to get into Abigail’s car.  But they have what they need. 

Wilkinson has been following Ben’s progress and goes to his mother first to threaten her; she cannot reveal the true translation to Ben, only to Wilkinson, who has further information.  She drops a hint to Patrick and Ben meets up with them at Mount Rushmore.  Wilkinson wants credit for finding the treasure and Ben hints that Wilkinson may also need the money.  Rocks in the lake behind the mountain lead to an underground temple.  They all get trapped and must find their way through.  Lots of traps lay in wait, like balancing on a board on top a pillar. They do find the golden temple, after water drains away.  Sadly, the water begins to rush back in and they’re almost trapped again.  Ben is willing to sacrifice himself to save his parents, Riley, and Abigail, but Wilkinson ends up drowning instead.  His final request is that credit goes to his family.

Ben meets with the President, who clears him of charges. Ben instructs that credit is to be shared with Wilkinson.  And there is another sequel hook that hasn’t come to fruition, when the President asks Ben about page forty-seven.  The film ends happily, Riley meets a girl, Abigail and Ben get back together, and even his parents may be on better terms now.

I do wonder how there is a connection between “pre-Columbian” culture and the Sioux of North Dakota; there is a lot of land between something that is reminiscent of Aztec or Inca and the Black Hills, and a lot of different people in between.

The action and adventure portions keep the suspense going; though I do wonder how these cultures created the booby traps.  Sure, they make sense trying to find the treasure, but how did they work creating them and how did they decide on those clues and such?  Probably a result of watching so many of these kind of movies.  Still like them; just have to suspend disbelief for a little bit.  And of course, the history!  If  these movies get more people interested in history, great!

Riley is comedic relief, though a bit whiny in the second film.  I think Nicholas Cage was a good leading man; he delivered a believable performance.  And I like Abigail; she’s intelligent, but not afraid to handle things on her own if need be.  And I really wished they had made the third movie, because I still wonder, what was the President looking for on page forty-seven?

Up Next: More history conspiracies with Da Vinci Code and Angles and Demons

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