Have you ever watched a TV show or film that featured a character with the same job as you? Have you ever thought, ‘But, that’s not how it is at all!’ Us, too! So, as part of a limited content series titled MoPOP Movie Reviews, we’ll take a look back at some of our favorite films and analyze how museums, art work, and art workers are portrayed.

To date, we’ve reviewed Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), Bean (1997), Black Panther (2018), How to Steal a Million (1966), and The Square (2017). We continue today with National Treasure (2004), one of the most-treasured adventure films from the 2000s.

The Square, from our last MoPOP Movie Review, was quite the film. It felt like a museum employee’s fever dream. So, we thought it’d be a good time for something a bit… less… realistic. And who can say “no” to a 2000s Nic Cage movie? Answer: Most everyone. BUT NOT US. Oh no, we went for it. And… it sure went.

The dialogue (and soundtrack!) from the movie was something we had to slog through. So, let’s see if we can string some coherent sentences together and dive into this.

Same rules as always with our MoPOP Movie Review series: each film starts with 20 points and the movie gains and loses points depending on its level of realism in the art/museum field. Please note that we haven’t had a movie land in the negative yet (not even Bean). Will National Treasure make history? Let’s find out…

'National Treasure' (2004)

Thanks, we hate it.

First off, jumping into the fun topic of Everything Is Problematic! Did you know that many modern conspiracy theories (and even fairy tales) are based in antisemitism? A lot of these theories are based off of super problematic ideas that were really honed in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and built on by Soviets (like the Doctor’s Plot) and N*zis around Jewish people controlling the media/banks/world. We shouldn’t need to say this but, of course, that’s absolutely false.

You might be thinking “Buhh, but is this MUSEUM related?” Relax. We’re teaching you something. And yes, it is. A lot of what we have to do inside of the museum is look at the hidden stories of stories. The reason behind the lore. And for that, we’re going to give National Treasure negative points because they completely washed out all of that and just dived headfirst into conspiracy land.

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: -5 points

Running Total: 15/20 points

'National Treasure' (2004)

Don’t. Touch. Collections. Period.

We know we’ve talked about this inside of galleries and for cleaning people and for all kinds of different reasons. But also, just don’t touch people’s collections. No matter where they are. And, especially when they specifically say, “Don’t touch that!”

Nic Cage’s character Ben Gates is a bit of an absolute chauvinistic cad.* We know, it was a mid-2000s thing, but it drove us nuts. Like, here’s this intelligent, successful woman falling for Mr. Problems and completely ruining everything she worked so hard for, committing federal crimes because… plot point?? We don’t get it. We kinda hate it, in fact. Hate it so much. Minus points.

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: -5 points

Running Total: 10/20 points

* Chris had to bring out the thesaurus to adequately describe Ben Gates. 

'National Treasure' (2004)

Is it really, though?

Ok, so this may seem nit-picky, but in the movie, they say that the Library of Congress is the biggest library in the world… but is it? What metrics are we using to measure? Number of books or largest footprint? We asked some credible sources and evidently the British Library has a larger collection.

But it is arguable? We guess? We were finding sources saying that one or the other was larger. It’s hard when the collection dates back to filing cards and hidden underground tunnels, but still. American exceptionalism aside, we are going to say the Brits are winning this one. 

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: -2 points

Running Total: 8/20 points

'National Treasure' (2004)

Preservation vs. Conservation

This was killing us. It was killing Chris so much he had to check and make sure that there wasn’t actually a “Preservation Room” for the Declaration. Turns out there isn’t. It’s a Preservation Laboratory. OK, so why was this driving us nuts? Because in museums it’s typically called conservation, not preservation. And, yes, there actually is a difference 

Technicalities aside, caring for paper is definitely a hard one. Do you wear cloth gloves? Rubber? No gloves? And carrying things – flat pack or rolled? A lot of times it comes down to the fragility of the item and what it’s inclined to do. If it was stored rolled for decades or centuries, trying to flatten it might destroy it. If it’s flaking and easily damaged, a tiny snag from cloth gloves or potential interactions with other types of glove material (just say no to kitchen gloves, please!) can cause more damage than no gloves at all. Cloth gloves can also leave teeny, tiny fiber fragments behind, further jeopardizing a fragile work. 

In general, if you’re trying to figure out how to best take care of your personal paper treasures: thoroughly wash and dry your hands before touching the paper, store it how it wants to be stored, and don’t go shoving it into tubes when it’s been lying flat for the last 200 years. That said, giving points for there actually being a “Preservation” room of sorts, but minus points because they’re really doing a terrible job of caring for the Declaration of Independence. 

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: +1 point

Running Total: 9/20 points

'National Treasure' (2004)

They aren’t actually good guys.

So… OK… Ben Gates is this treasure hunter that’s trying to Indiana Jones or Robin Hood the whole thing. Seems like a good guy, right? But he’s not. In the picture above, we’re guessing he’s jumping off a 40-foot deck into the water while carrying Benjamin Franklin’s super fancy, one-of-a-kind glasses.

Ben Gates ALSO somehow convinces Dr. Abigail Chase to follow him around with the Declaration of Independence and to apply lemon juice to a document that she built her life around protecting. For real, regardless of its historic significance, this is something she’ll run blindly into oncoming traffic to protect, and she just gets all swoony for Mr. Unemployed Conspiracy Theorist? Nope. 

P.S. We have nothing against unemployed conspiracy theorists, Ben Gates is just a chauvinist cad. Don’t be like Ben Gates. 

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: -4 points

Running Total: 5/20 points

'National Treasure' (2004)

Please. Just stop.

We know. We get it. There’s gotta be some kind of big reveal that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about the movie, but those of us in the museum world are shriveling and incinerating at the presence of fire around artifacts… just like many artifacts do around the presence of fire. Who does this? Who’s like, “You know what I wanna do? Trust an ancient, dilapidated room, built with wooden framing, and full of priceless artifacts to not catch itself on fire.” 

Last but not least, we just want to do a quick call out to the fact that instead of returning artifacts to the people that they were stolen from, they’re talking about splitting up the collection even more and sending it to other locations that don’t have cultural ties to the artifacts. Here are some examples from UNESCO’S list of repatriated artifacts. 

So it’s all just great.

Museum/Art Work Realism Review: -7 points

National Treasure Final Score for Realism in the Category of Art/Museum Work: -2/20

We did it, we finally broke through the negative point barrier. We honestly thought we’d be able to find something to keep it between 0 and 20, but evidently not! This was just so aggressively anti-museum practices that we just had to put it in the negative. We don’t even know what else to say here. 

Learn more about Movies at MoPOP + for contests, the latest news, and behind-the-scenes content, be sure to follow us on YouTubeFacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

If you like what you see, support our work by planning a visit or making a donation to MoPOP today!

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