So let's recap: We've broken into Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office, stolen a page from the President's super-secret book and actually kidnapped the President of the United States. What are we gonna do next, short-sheet the Pope's bed
? Ben: Well, you never know.
— National Treasure: Book of Secrets
trailer (lines cut
from the finished film
A couple of Disney films from Jerry Bruckheimer
that can be best described as The Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones
.National Treasure (2004)
Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage
) is the latest in a long line of the "treasure hunter" Gates family. The family myth is that the founding fathers of the United States hid a treasure that was gathered over the course of thousands of years and protected by the Knights Templar
(although sympathetic in this story). Finding a financial backer in the form of the English Ian Howe (Sean Bean
) and with his close friend and resident tech guy Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) they find the missing clue to lead them to the treasure's location. What they realize is that the next clue resides hidden on the back of The Declaration of Independence, and Ian reveals his Evil Brit
side and intentions to steal it.
Ben and Riley decide to steal the Declaration first so that Ian can't. Doing this not only makes them an FBI target, led by Director Sadusky (Harvey Keitel), but they also have to dodge Ian and his team of mercenaries. Along the way they accidentally pick up the historical records agent Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger
) and Ben's sarcastic father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). The rest of the story leads to a Linked List Clue Methodology
that takes them across many patriotic landmarks and (of course) finding "the treasure to end all treasures."National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets (2007)
After the Templar treasure find, Ben and his father are well-respected historians making rounds at various universities and lectures. During one of their lectures, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) shows up with a missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary that implicates their ancestor Thomas Gates being involved with the Government Conspiracy
to kill Abraham Lincoln
. The crux of the accusation involves the idea that Thomas was actually plotting to kill Lincoln instead of eliminating a part of a map to a treasure that would have given the South the financial ability to win the Civil War.
If the treasure exists, it will prove Thomas Gates' story. To restore his family's reputation
, Ben reunites with Riley to set out on yet another set of clues leading to yet another treasure. Of course the rest of his team show up eventually, including Ben's mom Emily (Helen Mirren
). But at one point they run into a jam with the clue list, which requires a (highly illegal) meeting with the President of the United States to locate his "Book of Secrets."
A third film is currently in development, but it is unknown when it will actually be released.
These films provide example of:
- Adorkable: Riley (Justin Bartha) is quite a looker under the glasses.
- Always Save the Girl: Subverted. When the wooden stairs in the mineshaft begin to fall apart, Ben has the choice to save the Declaration of Independence or Abigail from falling to their doom. It seems he's chosen the Declaration over Abigail, but he actually Takes a Third Option.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The questionable existence of the "national treasure."
- Artistic License: Despite what some people would like to complain about, much of the film is a Shown Their Work regarding history. There were a few things made up solely for the sake of a plot point to keep the story moving. A lot of the geography, on the other hand…
- Artistic License – History: As mentioned above, they usually avert this, however, the second film contains a very common misconception. Ben states that Dr. Samuel Mudd, a coconspirator in Lincoln's assassination, is who the expression "His name is mud," is referring to. This is actually not correct, as the phrase was used at least 2 decades before Lincoln's assassination.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Ian Howe is arrested on the charges of "kidnapping, attempted murder, and trespassing on government property."
- Autobots, Rock Out!: In the first film, rock music is played when Ian and his minions are being bad.
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: The entire plot of the first movie revolves around this as a plot device. Ian turns on Ben and Riley when Ben refuses to allow Ian to steal the Declaration of Independence. Then Ben and Riley end up stealing it to 'keep it safe' and out of Ian's hands... which also gives them the moral justification they need to steal the very document they need and can use to find the Templar Treasure as a side bonus. In other words, what this all comes down to in the end is that Ben and Riley couldn't have ever even gotten close to finding the treasure had Ian not betrayed Ben for opposing the very action he and Riley undertake themselves later in the movie.
- Bat Deduction: Ben does a bit of this when following clues. Made painfully obvious by the fact that he's never wrong. He does, however, have the benefit of generations of research into the very mysteries he's trying to solve. He gets called out on it by Abigail who got tired of him considering himself right.
Ben: If I'm right after I assume I'm right, then I'm correct.
Abigail: When you get to a conclusion without asking, and you happen to be right, you got lucky.
Ben: I get lucky a lot.
- The first movie has Riley quite gleeful when he realizes that he has knowledge and a deduction about the current clue that Ben didn't think of.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The past and present presidents of America, especially the Founding Fathers.
- Big Brother Mentor: Ben tends to have sprinklings of this trope along with some Big Brother Instinct towards Riley.
- Big "WHAT?!": Sadusdky pulls one when he hears of The President's absence.
Sadusky: ... The President's been WHAT?"
- Blatant Lies: The President when he said, "What book?" to Riley.
- The Book Cipher: The various numbers hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence; these correspond not to a book per se, but to the 'Silence Dogood' letters Ben's father donated to a museum.
- Camera Spoofing: Riley does this when Ben steals the Declaration of Independence.
- Cannot Tell a Lie: Ben, who manages to come up with a pseudonym to Abigail but noticeably falls apart after.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Invoked. in the first film, Patrick Gates knows that the villains will only keep them alive so long as they need help finding the treasure, and so encourages Ben to maintain that status quo.
- Cassandra Truth: Lampshaded in the scene where Ben and Riley go to Abigail's office to try and warn them about Ian's plan to steal the Declaration—not only does she not believe them (and in fact mocks them) when they explain why Ian wants it, but Riley notes that telling the truth also got all the other government agencies they went to for help to turn them away too.
- Chekhov's Boomerang:
- The meerschaum pipe.
- On a smaller scale, the ultraviolet ink on the campaign button.
- Chekhov's Hobby: A surprising subtle one in the first film. When the FBI rattle off Ben's history they mention he was in the Navy ROTC and a certified Navy Diver. Later when getting a change of clothes and looking up the clue to the Liberty Bell, Ben mentions his watch was a rather expensive diving watch. It is all suggested so quickly it doesn't come across as "In Your Face" but only adds validity to the moment when Ben escapes the FBI. Truth in Television, as large number of treasure hunters are certified divers because a great deal of treasure hunting involves shipwrecks.
- Chekhov M.I.A.: Ben's mother was briefly mentioned in the first movie, and the dialogue implied (though did not actually state) she had passed away. She appears as an actual character in the second film. The dialogue could be interpreted as having enough of treasure hunting rather than dying, however.
Patrick Gates: At least I had your mother, for however brief a time! At least I had you! What do you have?
- Chewing the Scenery: In the sequel, Ben runs into Abigail in Buckingham Palace, almost derailing the plan. To get it back on track, he starts making a scene as only Nicolas Cage can.
- The Chick: Abigail Chase.
- Cobweb Jungle
- Cool Shades: Benjamin Franklin's multi-colored-lensed ocular device from the first movie. Come on, you gotta admit they look cool.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Ian. "And tell the FBI agents listening in on this call if they want the Declaration back, and not just a box of confetti, then you'll come alone.". He also correctly predicted that they wouldn't agree to this.
- Deadpan Snarker: Riley Poole.
- Disney Villain Death: Shaw. It is a Disney movie, after all.
- Disposable Fiancé: Connor, the White House guy at the sequel.
- Dramatic Drop: Riley, on being asked for an autograph by a pretty girl, at the end of the second film.
- Drives Like Crazy: Invoked in the sequel; the villains are chasing after Ben for a piece of wood with a clue on it. Ben runs a red light, holds the wood up to the traffic camera so that it gets a picture of it, and has Riley hack the police database so that he can pull the picture up. Ben then fakes giving the wood to the bad guys before chucking it into the Thames to delay them.
- Durable Deathtrap: Played straight in the second film, but averted in the first. The mineshaft leading down to the treasure room is a deathtrap specifically because the wooden stairway and elevators the Freemasons built to get down safely have rotted away after two hundred years.
- Eagle-Eye Detection: A necessary skill to find the various clues and advance the plot.
- Establishing Character Moment: When Ben, Riley, Abigail, and Ben's dad are looking for Ben's mom's office at the university (she's a professor), they aren't sure whether they've found it, until one of her frustrated students angrily storms out of the office shouting "I hate her!" Ben's dad looks at the others and says "We're in the right place."
- Eureka Moment: Lots of them.
- Evil Brit: Ian Howe, the villain of the first movie, has a British accent, as do most of his Mooks.
- Family Honor: While this appears to some degree in the first movie (finding the Freemason treasure will prove that the Gates family was right and weren't just crazy treasure-hunting loons), it is much more directly a motivation in the sequel, where finding the City of Gold will prove why Gates' ancestor had his name on a page in the Booth diary (because the conspiracy appealed to him to crack the code for them) and thus exonerate the family of being connected with Lincoln's assassination.
- Flat "What.":
- Ben responds with this when his dad tells him he doesn't have the Silence Dogood letters.
- Also used by Riley when Ben tells him he is going to steal the DOI and again in the sequel when Connor refers to him as "Ben's assistant."
- Follow the Leader: Obviously a product of the conspiracy craze started by ''The Da Vinci Code'', preceding the movie version by two years.
- Fool's Map: Patrick is convinced the Templar treasure is just a story intended to keep the British going in circles looking for it.
- Frameup: In the sequel, the Big Bad deliberately makes it look like Gates' ancestor was involved in killing President Lincoln (and thus ruining the Family Honor)...all to force Ben to help him find the treasure as part of clearing his name.
- French Jerk: Subverted, for a change, in the second film.
- Friend or Idol Decision: Ben has to save either Abigail or the Declaration of Independence - he Takes A Third Option and saves them both. It is subverted in that Ben makes it clear that the Declaration was his first priority, and Abigail supports this, saying she would have done the same thing had the situation been reversed. Which confuses Ben.
- Fugitive Arc: Given the litany of minor crimes Ben commits over the course of both movies, this catches up with him when the law gets involved.
- Funny Background Event: In the sequel when Riley is discussing the Book of Secrets in front of the White House, the men on top of the White House in the background are real Secret Service snipers keeping eyes on the film crew.
- Gambit Pileup: Such gambits are pulled by Ben, Ian, and even the FBI ("Someone's gotta go to prison, Ben.") in the course of the first film. The last gambit had Ben turning Ian and his Mooks in to cover his own ass.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Benjamin Gates.
- Genre Blind: Apparently none of our heroes have ever seen an Indiana Jones movie.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In his dad's house, Ben pulls off his glove by the middle finger when his father has given away the Silence Dogood letters.
- Girl of the Week: At first seemingly played straight in the sequel, with an off screen breakup with Gates and Chase, forcing Ben to break into his own Mansion-like house. Though she joins the other two about a half hour in for the rest of the film.
- Guile Hero: Ben Gates is one of these. He gets through most of the first film by cleverness, only having to actually hit a mook once in the entire movie and even though he gets shot at several times, he never holds a gun or other weapon and he lets the cops take care of Ian Howe instead of beating him up and killing or turning him over to them like an action hero would.
- This in contrast to Ian from the first film, who's more direct and ruthless, and one of the main reasons for Ben stealing the Declaration of Independence before he does is that he expects that he'll destroy it trying to get the map off of it. This contrast is best shown when they both go after the document at the same time, with Gates infiltrating as a guest at a gala going on at the same time, and Ian and a squad of goons breaking into the building Splinter Cell-style.
- Held Gaze: The first variant occurs twice between Ben and Abigail. First, when they are arguing about her coming along with them to keep the Declaration safe: they gaze deeply into each other's eyes and Ben gives in to Abigail, with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. The second time it happens is when the adventurers are down in the tunnel beneath Trinity Church; Ben grabs Abigail, and they look deeply into each other's eyes soulfully before they kiss.
- The Hero: Ben Gates
- Hero Insurance: Addressed and ultimately avoided in both films. In the first, Ian was used as a scapegoat for the Declaration being stolen, mostly due to being an actual criminals in their general actions, including fighting against the FBI. The public doesn't know Ben and family were involved with that part. In the second, the President covered for Ben's actions. Absolutely massive bribes of money and history also helped.
- Hey, Catch!: Done with a flare in a room filled with gunpowder to escape being shot.
- High Concept: A treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration Of Independence. Concepts don't get much higher than that.
- Hollywood History: There were founding fathers, and several were part of an organization known as the Freemasons, which some claim was related tangentially to the Knights Templar. But part of the movie's premise is that there was a Secret History of the Freemasons and Knight Templar, so it can also be labeled under Artistic License.
- Hot Librarian: Abigail, given she works at the National Archives.
- I Have Your Wife:
- Or rather your girlfriend and funny sidekick.
- The sequel plays it more straight...sort of. Pike holds Gates Sr.'s ex-wife hostage
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Every single one of Ian's Mooks. Three shootouts, no casualties.
- To be fair, in one of them, they couldn't shoot without the risk of a gunpowder-hauling ship blowing up, and in the second, the shooter was on target. Ben just blocked the bullets with the Declaration's bulletproof glass shield.
- Impossible Mission: Some of the loftiest ever devised, from stealing the Declaration Of Independence to kidnapping the President of the United States.
- Indy Ploy: While Ben usually plans things out, he's not above making it up as he goes if things go off the rails.
- Keep the Reward: Double subverted. It's mentioned they were offered 10% of the worth of the treasure, but they turned it down. Then it's revealed they accepted 1% of ten billion dollars, which is 100 million.
- Kiss of Distraction: In the second movie, Abigail and Ben have to search the US President's antique Resolute desk. Abigail gets them into the Oval Office via a White House staff member she's dating, then pretends to lose an earring which they both crawl about on the floor trying to find, while Gates secretly checks out the desk. The staff member 'finds' the earring, and when Abagail sees Gates still needs more time, she begins to snog him passionately to show her 'gratitude', much to the bemusement of her ex-boyfriend Ben.
- Known Only by Their Nickname: It's easy to miss, but when Ben is chained up with the FBI (just before Ian calls them up), an agent can be heard saying, "Looks like Ian Howe is a false identity". Ian's true name never gets mentioned at any point in the film.
- Landmarking the Hidden Base: Invoked for Mount Rushmore in the sequel. It is said from a document that it was deliberately made to hide a clue.
- Landmark of Lore
- Lemming Cops: The car chasing them out of the library of Congress in NT 2.
- Linked List Clue Methodology: Lampshaded/deconstructed in the original. Ben's Dad points out that there are a lot of clues, and everyone who's tried to follow them ended up wasting their life.
- Load-Bearing Hero
- Making a Spectacle of Yourself: (See Cool Shades above) Again, Benjamin Franklin's Ocular Device glasses, not only are they colonial-style, but there are four other lenses, three colored, attached to the frame, all of which can be adjusted to read the hidden messages on the back of the United States' Declaration of Independence.
- Match Cut: The second film features a dissolve between the dome of St. Paul's cathedral in London and the Capitol Dome in Washington D.C.
- A Match Made in Stockholm: Ben and Abigail.
- Meaningful Name:
- In the first film, the characters' names are nods to Revolutionary War figures.
- All the Gates men in the series are named after them. Thomas Gates (middle name unknown, could be any of the five Thomases that signed the Declaration of Independence), Charles Carroll Gates, John Adams Gates, Patrick Henry Gates, and Benjamin Franklin Gates. All of which are justified given the family's links and history.
- Meta Guy: Riley
- Mission Control: Riley
- My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: To sneak Ben onto Mount Vernon Patrick fishes in the Virginian waters. When approached by Secret Service on a boat, they tell him to leave. Patrick tells them that the state constitution allows him to fish in any public water area. The agent tells him he has the right to detain Patrick for 48 hours without cause. Patrick nervously chuckles and leaves.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The Book of Secrets, despite containing all the nation's best-kept secrets, is actually not the major goal of the second movie. It's really just a small piece of a bigger puzzle.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Bruce Greenwood as the President. More specifically, Greenwood is a President Personable, and is depicted as being a genuinely noble person who is sympathetic to Gates's quest.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: "VALLEYFORGE"
- The Plan: This is how Ben operates. He makes a plan and follows through it.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Riley Poole
- Redemption Equals Death: Mitch Wilkinson
- Rise from Your Grave: Played with when Ben bursts out of a Freemason crypt after finding the treasure. Freaking out a guy examining the the skeleton and disintegrating wood coffin that were left when they entered.
- Rule of Fun
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Ian Howe. To some degree acknowledged by Ben when he finds the treasure.
- Sequel Hook:
- The original ending of the first film was changed because it was actually mistaken for a sequel hook, when it was meant to just be a funny ending. The Alternate ending can be still viewed at the extras of the DVD release, however.
- The second film has a more traditional one in the form of "Page 47."
- Sequel Reset: The Gates family reputation, restored by finding the Templar treasure, is once again ruined by the revelation about the Booth diary, forcing Ben to find another treasure to clear the family name. (Riley didn't get the fame and respect the Gateses did, though, due to being just the assistant; this time around he finally gets some proper recognition). And Ben and Abigail broke up, only to fall in love and get back together again.
- Shout-Out: In the second film when Ben sticks his hand into an opening he plays a prank reminiscent of Roman Holiday.
- Signature Item Clue: Invoked by Abigail in the second film when she deliberately drops one of her earrings in the Oval Office, then uses that as a distraction for Ben to examine the President's desk, on the grounds that it wouldn't do for an earring belonging to her to be found there.
- Soft Water: Used and lampshaded both at the New York Harbor in the first movie and the Thames River at the second. Justified, since they showed Ben diving the correct way, feet first with arms crossed. There was an earlier mention that Ben studied in a Naval academy for wreckage diving — he would likely have learned how to dive from heights "correctly" to avoid worse injury.
- Someone Has to Die: The only way to escape the flooding city is for one person to hold open the drainage door and close it once the rest are though.
- Status Quo Is God: Riley gets audited and loses his fortune so he actually has a reason to tag along. He gets the car back thanks to a pardon from the President but ends up crashing it five seconds after starting it up because he didn't check which gear it was left in.
- Steal the Surroundings: Ben does this with the frigging Declaration of Independence! After breaking into the National Archives Building (during a gala), he becomes pressed for time, due to the bolts securing the display case taking longer than he anticipated. When Riley loses his video feed, Ben forgoes the original plan and takes the whole damn thing! At least as far as the elevator, where he finally removes the Declaration from its display case.
- Stock Aesop: Subverted. Near the end of the first film, after being left underground by Ian, Ben and his group find a medium-sized, underground room with nothing in it. They think someone else found and looted the treasure already, and Ben's father tells him that the room is real, the clues leading there were real, so the treasure itself has to be real; in essence, "It's not the destination, it's the journey." Ben accepts that, but points out that the original diggers would have dug another tunnel for air and in case of cave-ins. Scouring the room more closely leads them to the real treasure room.
- Summon Bigger Fish: To get Mitch to agree to his terms, Ben called the FBI, after he kidnapped the President, and noted if what he summoned got there, neither side would win.
- Sundial Waypoint: One clue requires observing the shadow of a particular landmark at the right time of day to fall on a wall where the next clue was hidden behind a loose brick. While the sun's exact position would change over the course of the year, for the majority of the year it would land upon said wall where the hiding place was. Ben still has to look around for the right brick, though, which is helpfully marked.
- Take a Third Option:
"Mr. Sadusky, I'm still not against you... But I found door no. 3, and I'm taking it."
- Subverted in the second movie, however.
Ben Gates: "We can figure this out! We can all get out!"
Mitch Wilkinson: "It's not a puzzle! No more puzzles Ben! We're all gonna die, or it could just be me!"
- Taxman Takes The Winnings: In between the first and second movies, this happens to Riley Poole and at the beginning of the second film, his Ferrari is impounded by the IRS while he is signing copies of his book.
Riley Poole: [to Ben] Do you know what the taxes are on 5 million dollars? 6 million dollars.
- Theme Naming: Benjamin Franklin Gates, Thomas Jefferson Gates, John Adams Gates, Charles Carroll Gates, Patrick Henry Gates... see a pattern?
- Token Romance
- Train Escape
- Treasure Room:
- Visual Pun: Ben holding up the Declaration's bulletproof case as a shield from Shaw's gunfire. "Hiding behind the Constitution."
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee
- Wealthy Ever After: The first film's ending.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Ben's relationship with his father, in the mode of Indiana Jones.
- In the first film, you get a sense that Patrick had this going with his own father as well.
Ben: "Well, maybe that's the real Gates family legacy. Sons who disappoint their fathers."
- Who Shot JFK?: It's written in the President's Secret Book.
- Xanatos Gambit: The Masons in the Founding Fathers' goal was to protect the hidden treasure. Then their plan to use the Declaration of Independence works to ensure it regardless how the War of Independence comes out. If the Revolutionaries won, then the Declaration would be protected as an important piece of the new nation, and Masons can move to protect it from thieves. If they lost the war, the Declaration would have been destroyed as it is treasonous material. So the cipher on its back would be destroyed forever. Either way, it protects the treasure's location
- Zillion-Dollar Bill: Used as a joke by Riley, first asking if the pipe is worth a billion dollars, and then if it is worth a million dollars.