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Nicolas Cage breaks into the President's desk
in National Treasure 2 — It's a long story.

It snowed here in Spokane Saturday afternoon. It wasn't much in terms
of accumulation, but the light snowfall continued across several hours
and made driving or otherwise getting around a little difficult. By evening
the snow had stopped. And in fact by evening you could tell that people
had decided to get out and about a bit anyway — it is the Holiday weekend,
after all, and I think people just weren't ready yet to hunker down in
their homes, in spite of the snow and the slick roads that might set your
car to skidding. Sometimes you just have to resolve yourself to getting
past the bad bits.

I myself was sitting around with Tori Amos cranked up on the headphones
when my friend Sean called. He wanted to know if I was interested in
getting together for a drink and then hitting a late-night showing of
National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets (2007). So I said hell yeah
and he got on his computer and got the tickets, and about half an hour
later we were sitting having a drink down at Sunset Junction. We talked
about photography for a while, mainly flash set-ups for Sean's Nikon
D200, and he took some test shots. After that we got something to eat
downtown and then headed across the street to the AMC movie complex.

I dealt with a few things concerning National Treasure a while back. I
liked the first movie, and was looking forward to its sequel, NT2. The
new movie brings back the entire cast of the first movie and throws in a
few new people to boot — Ed Harris and Helen Mirren. I think it was
very wise of the producers to bring back the same people who had helped
make the first movie so enjoyable. The movie doesn't fool around much
with the formula of the first movie, either. In NT2 you essentially get
the same stuff you got in the first one — history (more or less), a
treasure hunt, some high-tech computer hacking wizardry and, most of
all, some pretty crazy plot elements.

In the sequel, historian Ben Gates and his father try to prove their
ancestor innocent in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
There is a pretty good flashback scene at the beginning of the movie
to the tragic night at the Ford theatre and the killing of Lincoln by
Booth. There aren't that many movies out there that show the assassination,
actually. You would think there would be about a hundred dealing with a
famous moment in history like that, but in fact there are really only a
handful. I think there are two reasons for that. First, there aren't that
many movies dealing with the Civil War period anyway, and the ones that
are set in that time have much different stories going on than events in
Washington in 1865. Second, I think that not many movie-makers across our
history have really wanted to deal with Lincoln's assassination. Even after
a century and a half Lincoln's death still casts its shadow over our country,
and there are too many unanswered questions.

And it is exactly those unanswered questions that form the springboard
for this movie. Thus we find Gates and his father following clues left
by some ciphers on a burned fragment of the diary of John Wilkes Booth.
But from there the clues lead away from Lincoln and the assassination.
Whereas the first NT movie stuck pretty close to the people and events
of the American Revolution, the path of NT2 leads to the discovery of a
secret book that has been kept by American presidents. This book, the
Book of Secrets, contains all the information that the government hasn't
wanted the American people to find out about since Lincoln's day. And
from there the plot gets even more remote, leading to an ancient Native
American city of gold that echoes somewhat the legend of Coronado and
the Seven Cities of Gold.

One of the fun things about both the NT movies is the outrageous stuff
Gates decides to do in order to follow clues. In this one, Gates and
his friends get to do fun things like break in to Buckingham Palace,
which is a really good sequence. They also have to find some way to get
into the Oval Office at the White House. But the wildest task in this
one involves the kidnapping of the President of the United States. Can't
be done, you say? Well, NT2 actually comes up with a way to make it seem
more or less plausible.

And by the way, there's nothing that I've said here that isn't in the
trailer. So I'm not handing you the spoiler.

The first NT movie was just about equal parts real history and bogus
history, and one of the things I liked most about it was that at its
heart, Hollywood entertainment of not, it carried a deep amount of
respect for the Founders of this country and especially for the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. NT2 contains less true
history and more bogus history. And if NT2 has one flaw I think it would
be just that. There is plenty of actual history, or at least historically based
legend, that could have been added to the plot of this movie without going
the City of Gold route. There was a very good legend at the end of the Civil
War, for example, about lost Confederate gold that could have been woven
into the plot. Then there is the fact that the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol
building was under construction during the Civil War. That would have made
for a good opportunity to make up something about a secret room at the top
of the rotunda, and the special effects opportunities would have been very
nice there also. In short, there were plenty of things the writers could have
done with bits of Civil War era history. And it really would have been nice
to have included more stuff about Abraham Lincoln and what this country went
through all those years, and of the great amount of healing that needed to be
done at the end of the war.

Nevertheless, this is one of those movies whose title tells us things the
script writers somehow managed to forget about once they really got to
working on it. Even the Founders of this country weren't above hiding a
few things from the public of their day. That is unfortunately something
that has been with us from the beginning. There is always a tendency of
government to hide things when they judge it prudent for the security of
the Republic. The question, of course — and the difficulty — lies in who
does the hiding and how much is going to be hid. In the ideals of the
Enlightenment, Truth is an intimate of Freedom. Truth needs Freedom for
its expression and distribution. And Liberty, our true national treasure,
can never last long amidst lies.

If there is a Book of Secrets, even in the metaphorical sense, let us hope
that it is a very thin book. And let us hope too that in spite of our fallible
natures as Men and the times that are put upon us that Liberty may always
find a way through the rough bits — even if it is sometimes like a car
skidding in a snowstorm.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with
firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,
let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind
up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have
borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do
all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace
among ourselves and with all nations."

— Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
(just one month before his death).

Christmas Eve, 2007

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