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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/1/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/2/2009

I typically spend most of the "prep-time" (if any) for my reviews stressing over the words which you are now reading. Yes, believe it or not, most of the work goes into the opening paragraph (and the rest often writes itself). However, this time, the director of the film in question has done my job for me. In one of the featurettes on the Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray Disc, Director Shawn Levy states that with a sequel, "It's going to get bigger and not better." Truer words have never been said. This has happened with many, many movies in the past, but few have been as guilty as Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

In Night at the Museum, a down-on-his-luck Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) took a job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Once there, he discovered that an Egyptian tablet allows the exhibits to come alive at night. The sequel begins several years later. Larry has left the museum and started his own company, Daley Devices, which sells his inventions. Although he is quite busy, Larry still tries to visit the museum when he can. On his latest visit, Larry finds that many of the exhibits are being boxed and shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, due to budget cuts. Larry is dismayed by this, and plans to address it at some time. That night, Larry gets a frantic call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson), a miniature cowboy, who claims that Larry must come to the Smithsonian to rescue the exhibits.

Larry heads for DC and finds that the magical tablet has traveled with the exhibits and created havoc in the Smithsonian. Sneaking into the storage area, Larry finds that his old friends have been cornered by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) an Egyptian emperor who wants to use the tablets power to rule the world. With his former allies trapped, Larry flees into the museum where he sees that the tablet has brought the exhibits to life. He runs into Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), and being an adventurer, she joins him. Together, they make their way through the museum, finding a way to get the tablet and save the exhibits.

Night at the Museum was definitely a gimmick movie, and, let's face it, we went to see the exhibits come to life. While it wasn't a great movie, it certainly had its moments, and as Ben Stiller was essentially asked to carry much of the film, it was funny in parts. It had a good combination of action and comedy, while also containing some heartfelt scenes. And, if nothing else, it was educational. In short, it was an enjoyable family film, which contained enough elements to please a wide audience.

For the sequel, the makers of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian were lucky enough to have most everyone return. Ben Stiller is back as the focal point of the film. He's joined by Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, and Ricky Gervais who reprise their roles. Behind the camera, Director Shawn Levy and writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. The only things that they forgot to bring back were the originality and heart.

One of the worst traps into which a sequel can fall is for it to feel like a rehash of the first film. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian falls squarely into that trap...sort of. Once the main premise is set up, we once again watch Larry, this time with help from Amelia Earhart, running through a museum trying to save the day (night?) and reacting to the insanity happening around him. Taking place in a new museum, the film does introduce some interesting new characters and ideas (the painting which come to life are very cool), but ultimately it's the same. Except that it isn't. In a way, it's admirable that the movie wants to introduce new characters. But, we want to see some of the old ones as well, as characters such as Dexter the Monkey or Sacajawea are on-screen for only a very short time.

The other problem with the film is the dichotomy of quality here. The movie is epic in scale and the special effects are very impressive, but the story and dialogue feel very slapdash. Far too much of the dialogue feels improvised and there are long, drawn-out scenes where the talking simply piles up and the story doesn't advance. It's clear (especially since he admits it in the commentary) the Levy fell in love with these moments and did nothing to stop them. The cameo from Jonah Hill ceases to be funny pretty quickly and there's a scene between Stiller and Azaria which must have been scripted by the Energizer Bunny, as it just keeps going and going.

Despite the fact that it took over 2 1/2 years to make it to theaters, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian feels as if it were thrown together over night. The story is lacking and the dialogue clunky. The special effects are good and there are a few funny moments, but overall, this is a long, boring re-hash. But, here's my question; How did they get Christopher Guest to be in this?

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian comes to life on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, and there are no defects from the source material. However, there is a noticeable amount of grain here. It's not intrusive, and I realize that any film can show grain, but for a brand-new, big-budget movie, this much grain is surprising. The colors are very good, most notably primary tones. The image is never overly dark or bright, and is well-balanced throughout. The level of detail is good, as is the depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While this is a good track, it doesn't have that great Fox sound. The stereo effects are very well-done. They are nicely detailed and show good separation. The subwoofer effects are good as well, giving "oomph" to the action scenes. However, the surround is a bit weak, and doesn't have the constant presence which we usually get from Fox DTS tracks.

The Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray Disc has multiple extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Shawn Levy. This is a fairly good commentary, as Levy speaks at length throughout the film, pausing only here and there. He does a good job of educating us about locations, actors, and effects. He also confirms our suspicions that much of the dialogue was improvised. Next is a second COMMENTARY from writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. As one would hope, this is a funny commentary, especially their idea for the third film. They do give us some good information about the script, but their jokes make the track worth a listen. The viewer can also choose to watch the film in "Scavenger Hunt Mode" which intrduces a game into the movie. "The Curators of Comedy: Behind-the-Scenes of Night at the Museum 2" (28 minutes) opens with the director saying "It's going to get bigger and not better." You said it, Levy. This featurette brings us interviews with Levy and the cast. They discuss the story, the characters, and shooting in the actual locations. There is a nice amount of on-set footage here. "Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words" (6 minutes) gives an overview of the historical figures and has the actors in character talking about themselves. "Directing 201: A Day in the Life of Director/Producer Shawn Levy" (19 minutes) is a "fly-on-the-wall" look at how Levy spends a day on the set. We also meet those who work around him, including his assistant. "Cavemen Conversations: Survival of the Wittiest" (4 minutes) is a mock interview with the caveman characters from the film. "Museum Magic: Entering the World of the Photograph" (6 minutes) explores how the characters were able to jump into a 1945 picture. "Secret Doors and Scientists: Behind-the-scenes of The American Museum of Natural History" (16 minutes) gives us a tour of the actual museum, including a history of the place and a look at areas where the public can't go. "Phinding Pharaoh" (5 minutes) shows how Hank Azaria developed his character. "Show the Monkey" (18 minutes) contains three featurettes which look at the monkeys from the film. We see how the monkeys were trained, hear the casts reactions to them, and see where the monkeys live when they aren't working. "The Jonas Brothers in Cherub Boot Camp" (4 minutes) has the young singers talking about their role...and trying to be funny. The Disc contains twelve DELETED SCENES which run about 27 minutes and can be viewed with commentary by Levy. There are some interesting moments here, but most show us more moments where the improvising just keeps going. The alternate ending is worth watching though. "Gangster Levy" (2 minutes) is a fake short which is briefly glimpsed in the movie where Levy plays a gangster. There is a eight minute GAG REEL. The extras are rounded out by two "Fox Movie Channel Presents" segments: "Making a Scene" (10 minutes) and "World Premiere" (5 minutes), each of which shows the standard clips and comments.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long