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Museums in the Movies – National Treasure
"The secret lies with Charlotte.”
What could this cryptic message possibly mean?
National Treasure only leaves you guessing about the first clue in this odyssey through American history for a matter of minutes before Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) finds the answer – which only leads to more clues and more questions!
The movie begins with a small boy climbing the attic stairs on a dark and stormy night. He has decided to investigate the mysterious family legend himself. He is promptly caught by his grandfather, who decides he is finally old enough to hear the story.
Nearly two hundred years ago, his great grandfather’s great grandfather was a stable boy, rushing the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence to the White House to meet with President Andrew Jackson.
Before expiring in the back of the carriage, the man tells the Gates ancestor about a wondrous hidden treasure that is “too great for any one man to possess.” He doesn’t know where it is, but he has the last surviving clue: “The answer lies with Charlotte.”
The Gates family has spent generations trying to figure out who Charlotte is and where the lost treasure is hidden. They have become a laughing stock in the historical community because they have no evidence that there even IS a treasure, let alone where it might be.
As the movie unfolds, Ben uses his vast knowledge of American history to unravel riddle after riddle, leading us around historic New England, on the same terrain the founders of this nation trod upon.
In the opening scenes, Cage’s dialog is a bit stilted, but as the plot progresses, he becomes more believable as a character, and the viewer is swept up in the quest to solve the next puzzle and find the next clue.
Of course there are “bad guys” who are at odds with our hero, and you can identify them quickly in the film’s first modern day scene in the Artic. They want the riches of the treasure for themselves and couldn’t care less about the historic value of what they might find.
The movie is full of Masonic symbolism and secret codes. Some of the clues are “hidden in plain sight” – for example, on the back of a $100 bill. Others require a bit more digging, and a lot more knowledge of American history, to figure out.
While some of the movie was filmed in re-created sets using the latest animation technology, much of it was shot on location at some of our nation’s most important historic landmarks, including the Washington Monument, Independence Hall, and Trinity Church. Moviemakers built an exact replica of the National Archives to shoot the scenes with the Declaration of Independence.
What’s great about this movie is its accurate depiction of the professional museum world. The details of the special case built for the Declaration of Independence aren’t science fiction. That’s exactly how our nation’s important artifacts are stored and displayed, by those museums that have enough funding for such projects.
I was also impressed with how the movie handled the scene when the Declaration of Independence was being examined. Before performing an acid test on it, archivist Dr. Abigail Chase grabs the lemon Gates is about to squeeze over the document and puts a small amount on a cotton swab, saying, “If chemical tests are going to be done, it will be by someone TRAINED in handling antique documents!” (Although most archivists and curators wouldn’t dare put lemon juice on something so important – unless they had a really good reason!)
The DVD has some neat features, including a short documentary on real life treasure hunters, and an interactive code game that teaches about hieroglyphics, Morse code, and other methods of transmitting secret messages.
This was a spectacular movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even a casual interest in American history is enhanced by this DaVinci Code style hunt that will leave you amazed at every turn!
Content copyright © 2013 by Kim Kenney. All rights reserved.
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