After a surprise hit with the first Night at the Museum, it seemed inevitable that the series would see a sequel. Fast forward three years and that’s the case, with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian arriving in theaters to a hungry audience. With few box office smashes out during that time the film enjoyed a solid performance in theaters, although it wasn’t nearly as positive as the first films opening domestically (it did perform stronger worldwide, however). Still the film was another positive mark in the fantastical series that is light on plot but heavy on special effects and humor.
History is larger than life — and twice as funny — in this monumental comedy sequel. Ben Stiller (Meet The Parents, There’s Something About Mary) stars as Larry Daley, a former night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come alive after dark. But now Larry’s nocturnal friends are being retired to the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, luring him back for a hilarious, all-out battle against a cranky Egyptian Pharaoh who plans to take over the museum… and the world!
The synopsis for this film is a bit hard to swallow. Larry comes out of retirement from his wildly successful new job to help his Natural History friends from…being boxed up. It’s a curious premise and one that’s about as subtle and pointless as the Darth Vader cameo, but when you break it down it’s all just an excuse to bring to life more historical figures and take it to an all-new setting. It didn’t hurt that I saw this film while I was actually in Washington, D.C., so it added an extra bit of “oh that’s awesome” to it. But once that wears off you do end up with a disturbingly hollow film.
As enjoyable as the film is, there are a few things that glaringly stand out. Mainly how Daley’s kid can access schematics of the Smithsonian to the point that he can pilot his father through the underbelly. I know kids are whizzes with computers, but c’mon. That’s a bit overly farfetched even for a movie with a Sesame Street character arguing with Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah. But hey, suspend your belief by all means…the film really works better that way, after all. It’s simple and ridiculous at the same time, but overall the experience is one that is quite enjoyable.
What helps the film thrive is Amy Adams portrayal as Amelia Earhart. While the “romance” between her and Larry is a bit disturbing at first (she’s wax, Larry! Ease up on the googly eyes!), it’s another thing you have to kind of ignore for the enjoyment of the film. In fact if you aren’t able to overlook some incredibly stupid things in the film then chances are you won’t be able to enjoy it in the least; but, really, it’s just incredibly simple and harmless entertainment for the most part and the various characterizations and multitude of actors simply make this a highly enjoyable film to take in.
Amy Adams leads the pack of new talent in this film, but she’s just the tip of the iceberg. While the likes of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robin Williams return, we also get newcomers like Hank Azaria, Bill Hader, and Christopher Guest. Plus there’s the always hilarious Ricky Gervais in an all-too-brief role as he reappears as the curator/director of the Natural History museum for a short period of time. Plus the Wilson/Steve Coogan relationship was as fun as it was in the first film, so even if you don’t like some of the new things there’s still plenty to enjoy that’s familiar as well.
Mix in a healthy dosage of special effects, a couple cameos from writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (of Reno 911! and The State fame) and you have an enjoyable and solid way to spend an hour and a half. It’s not going to win any awards for originality or superb writing, but as basic and overly juvenile as the execution of this film is at times it’s still fun to watch, especially if you’re with a group of friends. Watching it alone can get a bit dull, however, as I found out on a second viewing.
Overall this is a Recommended film for those who enjoyed the first and a Rental for newcomers. There’s really nothing “new” here that you didn’t see in the first film, aside from the setting and some new faces…but overall a solid outing nonetheless.
Fox definitely held onto this film longer than they do with their other films and released this in the prime spot for the holiday season. Arriving in a three-disc Blu-ray set (with disc 2 being a DVD version and disc 3 a digital copy), the Elite Blu-ray package comes adorned with a reflective foil slipcover that’s plastered with a couple stickers and such. Inside the set are your standard array of inserts and disc art that includes art from the film…as well as some monkeys.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded transfer that, as one would guess from a newly released film, looks spectacular. Some of the cheesier CGI is a bit too evident here, but overall this is an outstanding looking transfer. There isn’t a disappointing frame in the entire transfer and everything, from the color levels to the detail on characters clothing and faces, simply looks spectacular. Fox is definitely one of the top studios when it comes to Blu-ray transfers and they really did a solid job with this video mix.
As for the audio? Well…same thing, really. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is a powerhouse, taking every opportunity to throw sounds around the room and to pound and bounce around with plenty of bass. Whether it’s dinosaurs moving around or tiny miniature replica men bounding around, the mixture of on-screen antics with the surround mixture is really quite a sonic experience. Again this shouldn’t be any real surprise—the first film was enjoyable and I’d only seen that on DVD, so the added impact of Blu-ray just helps this kind of film to be all the more enjoyable.
Extras are advertised quite sneakily here. A sticker on the cover boasts “4 hours of laughs,” but I’m pretty sure they’re counting the multiple copies of the films…which is kind of bullcrap. But aside from that misnomer (and the confusing declaration of “Over 2 Hours of Laughs!” on the back…talk about confusing advertising), there is a bit of extra goodness to check out. The full list includes:
• Gag Reel
• 12 Deleted Scenes Including Alternate Ending
• Curators of Comedy: Behind The Scenes With Ben Stiller
• Museum Scavenger Hunt Game
• Cherub Bootcamp
• Phinding Pharaoh With Hank Azaria
• Monkey Mischief Featurettes
• Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words
• Secret Doors and Scientists
• Cavemen Conversations: Survival of the Wittiest
• Museum Magic: Entering The World Of The Photograph
• Director 201 With Shawn Levy
• Gangster Levy
• Audio Commentaries With Filmmakers
• FOX Movie Channel Presents Featurettes
That’s a large list, although the amount of genuine content is limited. The majority of the pieces are games for children (or very bored people) to play with and those that aren’t are very limited in their appeal to the majority of the audience. The main saving grace are the audio commentaries, which feature an array of participants. While they’re a bit self-congratulatory in some cases, overall they’re pretty entertaining.
Overall a Recommended release. The Blu-ray release is a bit overkill with the two bonus discs that will be of little use to those who are actually buying it for the Blu-ray version, but it’s still a solid set nonetheless. Extras could be a bit more worthwhile, but honestly…what could they cover that they didn’t in the commentaries? More special features on how the CGI was done? No thanks.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.