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JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS TO THE RESCUE

A few years back a friend handed me a best-seller science fiction/horror book and said it was kinda fun. I started reading, and about twenty pages in I thought, This is pretty interesting. About fifty pages in I thought, This is fascinating! About a hundred pages in I thought, This is TREMENDOUS! And about a hundred and two pages in I thought, This is PREPOSTEROUS!
    The cool thing about Jerry Bruckheimer's “National Treasure” movies is that they don't bother trying to hook you with plausible expositions or explanations – they go directly for the preposterous and keep it coming. This absolves you, as a movie-goer, from any obligation to try to make sense out of the plot, and invites you to sit back and have a big time.
    If you saw the first movie in 2003 you'll remember that the first preposterous thing you were asked to believe was that Nicholas Cage was a dashing swashbuckler hero, which is something like the White Queen believing six impossible things before breakfast. Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates (a combination of names that Americans find irresistible), who is a, uhh, Researcher (read treasure hunter) who steals the Declaration of Independence because it contains a clue to an immense treasure that was brought to America by the Freemasons, who are an offshoot of the Knights Templar, which is about all I can remember except that the treasure is at the bottom of a yawning pit that lies, cleverly hidden,  beneath Trinity Church in Manhattan. I decided early on that you should enjoy the movie as a farce when there was a plot point involving a collection of George Washington's campaign buttons, and  Washington was  running against whom, exactly? If you admit that the movie is not designed to make sense, you can have a whole lot of fun.
    The new movie, on those same terms, finds Ben Gates on the trail of the Seven Cities of Cibola, except there's only one of them, and it's underneath the mountain that Mount Rushmore is carved into. Ben has to find it to prove that one of his ancestors didn't really conspire to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and he has to break into Buckingham Palace and the White House, and kidnap the President of the United States, to find the clues to do it. See what I mean?
    Ben is once again aided by sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), who can disable the Queen of England's entire security system from a men's room stall, and also gets most of the funny lines. Diane Kruger is back as Ben's estranged wife, which lets you know some time has gone by, because they barely knew each other in the first movie. John Voight returns as Ben's father, and Harvey Keitel as  the wryly bemused FBI agent. Bumping the whole project into the realm of luxury casting is Helen Mirren as Ben's mother, and why should we be surprised that one of the world's great actresses would jump at the chance to travel to South Dakota and have a great time and make a few bucks?
    There are also the usual bad guys, led by Ed Harris as a southern gentleman who is certainly no gentleman, and possibly no southerner, if you listen to his accent come and go. Most of the tension is provided by the really cool booby traps that protect the buried City of Gold, and this leads us to a digression into cultural history.
    If you don't know the name Carl Barks, you really ought to. Barks was a Disney artist who created the Uncle Scrooge comic books of the 50s and 60s, some of the greatest comic art of all time. Scrooge McDuck, the world's richest waterfowl, aided by his nephews Donald and Huey, Dewey and Louie, tracked down mythical treasures in exotic lands around the globe, including King Solomon's Mines, The Golden Fleece, and the Philosopher's Stone. (No nonsense with Barks about renaming it “The Sorcerer's Stone.”)
    All the treasures that Uncle Scrooge goes after are protected by either mythological creatures or complex booby traps, and the booby traps in two adventures, the search for the Inca emperor's hidden gold mine, and the hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola (all seven, you'll notice) are riddled with devices that show up in this movie.
    But the director who has plagiarized the most from Uncle Scrooge is Steven Spielberg, whose Indiana Jones movies are peppered with fancy takes on Barks Booby Traps, from the Roaring Skull Cracker to the Sickle of the Short Haircut. Actually, Spielberg and Lucas admit that Uncle Scrooge was their inspiration, so I guess it's not technically plagiarism, just a canny compulsion to steal from the best.
    And if, as I have, you've squirreled away your Uncle Scrooge collection, do the world a favor and pass it on to a kid with imagination and a taste for high adventure; you might help to create a new J. K. Rowling, or even a new Carl Barks.