A whimsical, energetic throwback to a style of movies long since lost, Night at the Museum is a wonderful family effort from Shawn Levy. Witty dialogue, memorable characters, and spectacular effects highlight this piece of escapist entertainment. Kids will have a blast, and adults will simply sit back and enjoy this innovative, soon-to-be Hollywood favorite.
Rapidly establishing its lead with Ben Stiller playing Larry Daley, the pacing is spot on as he takes a job at the Natural History Museum to appease his ex, who feels he’s going nowhere. While this leads to a moral lesson at the end, Daley’s personal issues are sent into the background to make room for the wild adventure inside the confines of his new place of employment.
Night at the Museum avoids many of the clichés typical of many fantastical films of this nature. Daley accepts that the museum comes alive at night with little explanation. An amulet causes the attractions to fill with life and the movie continues on. While Daley second guesses his new job, he quickly adapts, and his solutions to some of the tormenting living wax creations are hilarious.
This is unusual for a modern Hollywood effort. Movies today tend to go on and on about why things are, convoluting the plot and creating plot holes. Museum is fine with saying “it just is.” The suspension of disbelief is easily crafted in this manner, and helps keep the kids in their seats as the special effects take hold of their imaginations.
Employing loads of computer-generated creations, the $100 million put forth to craft them was well spent. Of special note are a set of lions that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. A wailing T-Rex skeleton is the highlight of the trailers, and deservedly so. It’s an inspired creation.
Alongside Ben Stiller is an excellent supporting cast, including Robin Williams (surprisingly under control compared to his usual antics) and Owen Wilson taking part in a hilarious rivalry with a Roman enemy. Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs are brilliant, meshing together as the previous guards Stiller’s character replaces.
Many small dialogue exchanges make the film worth watching twice to catch it all, and kids will surely wear this one out with repeated viewings. A harsh PG rating from the MPAA is on the over-protective side, with only minor scares that are eventually worked out into fun sub-plots or funny minor characters. Superb choreography (especially with the special effects mixed with live action) and tightly crafted chases are only a few of the highlights.
While Shawn Levy carries a spotty resume, his direction here led to a massive box office and deservedly so. Night at the Museum is simply a loaded film, captivating any and all audiences looking to spend an evening being thoroughly entertained. It’s impossible not to have fun here.
The DVD transfer of the film is riddled with issues. Compression becomes the key problem, outlining everything and making some fast moving scenes unwatchable. Reds are filled with artifacts. Color is strong, though rarely is the picture sharp or clear. The full video presentation is muddy and soft. Black levels are soft and inconsistent.
Both DTS and 5.1 audio options fill the disc with immersive sound. Hardly a scene goes by where the audio isn’t playing some role in pulling the viewer into the film. Bass is flawlessly mixed in with other aspects of the audio, providing a powerful punch without drowning out the flawless movement from all channels. This is one of the fullest sound fields you can find on the format.
Two commentaries fill the first disc in this dual disc edition. Shawn Levy controls the first, always speaking on a technical and personal level. Writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon handle the second. They have a little more fun along with solid information.
There are seventeen minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Levy). Aside from an alternate opening, little here is of any importance. A blooper reel around six minutes is worth checking out. Bringing the Museum to Life is a brief featurette looking at the special effects. Monkey Business continues a string of featurettes and this one focuses on working with the monkey.
Comedy Central’s Reel Comedy is a purely promotional piece that runs 21 minutes. Building the Museum is self explanatory, focusing on the set design. Historical Threads is brief five minute piece that looked at the costumes. Ten minutes of storyboard comparisons comes with an introduction by Levy.
Making Night at the Museum is 11 minutes of familiar territory by this part of the disc. A Fox Movie Channel feature provides generic information from those involved. A second Fox effort is an episode of Life After Film School. This is one of the better extras, with a nicely rounded conversation on the film and the process of getting it made and the final thing you’ll find in this set.
Shawn Levy’s prior massive success was the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen. His work before this included some dabbling in animated TV shows. Plans are in place for the rising director to handle the comic book adaptation The Flash in 2008.