Not Quite a 'Treasure'

By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 3, 2005 12:00 AM

"National Treasure" (PG; List price: $29.99)

Release Date: May 3

Last week four Massachusetts men were arrested, accused of stealing the "buried treasure" they claimed to have discovered while doing a roofing job. Some have speculated that the quartet allegedly stole the wad of antique cash to gain wealth, fame or both. But the cynic in me came up with another rationale: Perhaps it was all a brilliantly executed marketing stunt related to this week's DVD release of "National Treasure."

Surely Buena Vista Home Entertainment had nothing to do with that bizarre turn of events. But the New England news story did break at a coincidentally fortuitous time. Not that "National Treasure" needs the boost; as one of the highest-grossing movies of 2004, sales of this single-disc release will likely be brisk.

Before you rush out and buy it, consider the following. The film -- about a treasure hunter (Nicolas Cage) eager to get his hands on a historically significant map on the back of the Declaration of Independence -- is occasionally fun but mostly formulaic. After watching it once, most viewers probably won't feel the need to view it again.

With a very creative approach to its bonus material, however, the DVD almost compensates for the movie's shortcomings. In keeping with the treasure hunting theme, each of the extras reveals a pair of letters. After watching the four initial features, viewers can enter those letters to spell a secret word (don't worry, even 6-year-old Sherlocks can figure it out), which then yields a new menu screen with an additional set of bonus features. It's a clever approach and one that compels the audience to check out all of the supplemental material, or at least fast-forward through it to get to the next clue.

Unfortunately, few of the features -- which include a dull making-of doc, two deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a featurette about real-life treasure hunters and interactive puzzles -- are worthwhile enough to merit the effort. But somehow I doubt that will stop owners of the DVD from trying to solve "National Treasure's" mysteries. After all, as those four guys from Massachusetts might agree, it's hard to resist the prospect of a buried treasure, even if finding it ultimately leads to a dead end.

Most Enjoyable Bonus Point: "Riley Poole's Decode This!" -- a series of games named after the character played by Justin Bartha and located among the second, "secret" set of extras -- actually makes for an engaging diversion. Kids in particular may enjoy using their DVD remote to decode various messages, which also teach a thing or two about hieroglyphics and cartography.

Most Unnecessary Bonus Point: The second set of extras also includes a "Verizon Bonus," which does nothing more than explain how to buy "National Treasure" games that can be played on Verizon cell phones. That's not an extra, ladies and gentlemen and Verizon. That's a commercial.

Biggest Rip-off of a Bonus Point: Remember that scene in the movie "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie feverishly decodes a secret message, only to find out it's an advertisement for Ovaltine? That's sort of how I felt after I finally tracked down the Master Code on this DVD. After finding the three-digit code, I was treated to an Easter egg: a version of the movie with a cool pop-up trivia track. But when I plugged the code into the DVD's logbook (which can be accessed from the main menu screen), all I got was a complete list of all the features I'd already watched. I was expecting more Easter eggs.

Coming in Next Week's Bonus Point: A review of the Criterion Collection's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou."

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive