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INDEPENDENCE DAY AGAIN?
by Michol Little

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typical Independence Day venue

typical Independence Day venue
The 4th has come and gone, so did we as a nation join our hands, (are you kidding?) praise the writers of the Declaration of Independence; give thanks to the men and women in our armed forces? Did you even think of all those that have gone before and sacrificed for our freedom? No? Ok sorry, you burned your hamburgers on the grill; set off all the fireworks accidently at one time and somehow Jake the cat came a little too close to that bottle rocket. Yep, we know how to appreciate what we have. I bet you even watched like I did, the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY, starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonald, Judd Hirsh and a host of other notable actors. Can you believe you have watched it at least 16 times? The movie was released in 1996 as a PG-13, sci-fi movie where aliens try to take over the world creating a mass exodus to....well to anywhere aliens were NOT.

As I was watching the happy ending of yet another blown up space ship, I was left thinking about how UN-patriotic is all felt. We celebrate with eating ourselves to death with fats and sugars; we blow ourselves up at times for the thrill of the sparkles and star banners; and not once did I ever think about the brave souls who all made it happen for our world today. I wanted to watch a movie that was modern yet based on history, and how there is still bravery, honesty, and dedication to the principals of Patrick Henry's impassioned statement, "Give me Liberty, or give me death!" Geez, corny I know but Americans don't appreciate how good we have it sometimes.

Rummaging through the vaults of past movies, I found the one movie I remembered as being historic yet modern: NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS, produced by Walt Disney Pictures (2007) and staring Nicholas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates (catchy name, huh) an antiquities treasure hunter and a direct descendant of Thomas Gates; Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, John Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel and others. The movie had all the elements of intrigue, mystery, a great car chase scene; amazing scenes of our history, picturescapes of some of our national monument "treasures, " history lessons we never think about; a little romance here and there and let's not forget the City of Gold. I especially loved the "President's Book" which was portrayed as a President's Diary handed down
NATIONAL TREASURES 2004 original film

NATIONAL TREASURES 2004 original film
through each generation of sitting President's containing an account of their historical "secrets" covering a couple 100 years.

BOOK OF SECRETS, is the sequel of the original film NATIONAL TREASURE (2004) which introduces us to the family Gates, all antiquity treasure hunters yet very patriotic souls. The original film received higher accolades from film critics than the sequel; and you can't sit through the film without having this prickling feeling you are watching a segue into INDIANA JONES and subsequent follow-ups. The movie begins with flashbacks to the young Ben Gates being caught by his Grandfather (played by Christopher Plummer) rummaging through personal keepsakes and family treasures. Young Ben asks his Grandfather to tell the story of his ancestors. It seems in the days beginning with the Pharaohs there had always been the illusive story of a great treasure collected down through the ages. The caretakers at one time were the Knights Templar who believed the accumulation of treasure was becoming larger than could be easily hidden, and decided to smuggle it to the Americas only to find themselves in the beginnings of the Revolutionary War. Needing allies, the Knights formed another group to help guard the treasure: the Freemasons. Thus began a series of clues, riddles and secret hiding places with the intent of leaving a trail to the treasure for future Gates ancestors. We then fast forward to the grownup Ben Gates who had never forgotten the stories of his Grandfather and had become himself a renowned treasure hunter. His treasure hunting travels take him to the Arctic where he accidently discovers the sunken ship "Charlotte" and his first cryptic riddle about a treasure map. He bounces from here to there de-ciphering hidden codes on artifacts drawing his closer to the belief that the final riddle is somehow hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Here the movie becomes very predictable which is a letdown. It doesn't have the kick that keeps you guessing and involved in the story. As the plot pulls us onward into the inevitable tragic end, we see the rogue Ben smuggling the American historical icon from the Preservation Room at the National Archives; finding a cipher to decode; traipsing off again to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia only to hit a wall. You just know a sequel is coming. It's
The sequel in 2008

The sequel in 2008
the part where you give a huge sigh, you're tired of the drama with a letdown ending; you're ready to go get the popcorn and a breath of fresh air. I'm not sure what an adult expects from a PG movie, but for a family fun film it works.

It is now 2008; the waiting is over. We have the sequel NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS. This is the movie I chose to watch on my July 4th holiday and it was (ho-hum) a fun movie, predictable if not absurd at times; canned scripts and mundane blips of laughable scenes. In other words, we have a great family movie for the older school age child having moments together. What did I like the most about it? It was refreshingly historical in nature yet spiced with enough fiction leaving you a prideful sense Ben Gates valued our American artifacts. They seemed to represent to him a patriotic requirement to remember our fight for freedom and a responsibility to honor his family and those who we now easily forget whose blood was shed so that America could be great. I wonder how they would see our progress now.

It is a simple plot. Ben Franklin Gates is confronted by Mitch Wilkinson with proof that his ancestor Thomas Gates was involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth. The re-enactments of that tragic night are historic in nature and believable keeping your interest for the "what comes next" scenes. Not one to have a fellow treasure hunter rub his nose on his ancestors, Ben attempts to prove him wrong by first studying the proof: a torn page from Booth's diary. Here is where we go hopping across international time zones to England to sneak into Buckingham Palace to inspect one of two Resolute Desks in existence. They discover a hidden wooden plank with early American code when de-ciphered by Ben's mom (Helen Mirren) gives clues to the existence of the City of Gold (Cibola). We are next in the White House to inspect the second Resolute Deck which I discovered actually exists and was used by Franklin Roosevelt who installed in the knee space a wooden panel to hide his wheelchair. This desk in the movie contains clues of a Presidential Book of Secrets and or course Ben, the proverbial mindless risk-taker he is, decides he has to kidnap the President to get his help in finding this Book.

Interestingly, the writers of the film again introduce
I want this desK!  Presidential Resolute Desk

I want this desK! Presidential Resolute Desk
that to-be-continued link to a possible second sequel. The President asks Ben should he not get caught too soon in finding the Book of Secrets, to look on page 47 and tell him what it says. This is a tad bit confusing. Why couldn't the President just look for himself? We aren't told nor do we ever discover the details of page 47. What we do learn is one riddle after another leading the now group of treasure seekers to their Journey to the Center of the Earth, or in this case, into the City of Gold hopefully. You will have to see the movie of course to get your answer!

In summary, the movie had ok ratings but a powerhouse of actors with weak story lines and stereotyped characters: good cop (Harvey Keitel); fuddy-duddy Grandfather fighting with Grandma who happens to be a PhD specializing in ancient artifacts; the main character Ben, American hero of sorts; the bad guy turns good guy Wilkinson for the sake of history (truly unbelievable); and the INDIANA JONES style mimic journey into the depths of the earth to find the City of Gold. I actually immediately thought about the movie JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959) produced by Twentieth Century Fox. The scenes in BOOK OF SECRETS was so typical of the 1959 film it gave you that, "been there, done that" sense of seeing something you've seen before; same as INDIANA JONES scenes deep in the bowels of the earth treasure hunting. I would like to think treasures are also deep in the sea or on mountain tops instead of the overused version of having the earth swallow up the jewels or gold; fighting off the fear of skeletons and death traps; being stuck in underground water falls and pools and having to risk drowning to survive. All sounds much too blasť familiar to action-packed and more successful thrillers. All in all, I must say, I enjoyed the plot, the actors who did their best with weak lines; and the more wholesome if not whimsical nature of the movie. At times I just get tired of the blood and guts type films, murder and mayhem, cheaters, sex offenders, child molesters, and paranormal fantasy when we can't even deal with life today much less the thought of life tomorrow.

Great film for the family added to a cozy kinda night with popcorn and great American History on this week in celebration that we live in the greatest country in the world albeit as dysfunctional as it seems.

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Mike Thomas
Jul 7, 2012 1:13 AM
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I think the three movies you cited have one thing in common - secrets. Secrets the American Public has no knowledge of. It's almost as though Americana is steeped in secrecy.

The three movies are very enjoyable, and the National Treasure movies give tons of obscure historical facts - some of them true. The danger with those films, like the movie JFK, is that it's difficult to discern what is historical truth and what is movie fiction.

Still, if you take as pure entertainment, you can't beat it.

P.S. News: INDEPENDENCE DAY 2 is in talks, and I sincerely hope there will be a National Treasure 3, except they're running out of massive hidden treasures to find.
Michol
Jul 7, 2012 9:13 AM
[X] delete
Hey Mike, good to hear from you. I loved these movies, but you're right, how many secrets is the govenment going to allow? I do wonder though, is there really a book of secrets? As far as INDEPENDENCE DAY 2....Alright already, we have killed the space ship but THEY'LL BE BACK.......I;m with you all the way...but I'd pick NATIONAL TREASURE first. It was a easy movie to watch, but just plain interesting. You're the best!
Tim
Jul 7, 2012 12:05 PM
[X] delete
we do not want independence day 2
Michol
Jul 7, 2012 2:18 PM
[X] delete
Ahhhhh, you don't want 16 more years of the same movie on July 4th? You can only kill so many alien ships until something has to give...



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Other Columns
Other columns by Michol Little:

Do Actors Necessarily Make Good Politicians?

Directors of Actors Make the Film

What movie nearly wrecked Kevin Costner's career?

Children's Top Box Office of all Times!

Dinesh D'Souza and 2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA

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Michol Little
I've been writing about anything and everything all my life: fiction, research projects, speeches and term papers for anyone who needed help. I'm a single Mom with all kids out of the nest, and now have time to really enjoy my writing passion. While finishing my courses for my MBA, I developed a burning desire to actually publish some of my work in fiction as well as research white paper on most anything that interests me. I work for a national retail food brand as a construction project manager which is my DAY job; and hope to increase my exposure as an author and ghost writer as well as write articles and commentaries for various venues. .



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