When I saw Night at the Museum projected on the big screen, I found myself having a good time in spite of myself. I remember walking into the theater and wanting to enjoy it, but also wanting to not enjoy it too much. Why I had that approach I have no idea. Despite those intentions, my defenses were quickly worn down and I found myself sucked into this delightful family fantasy.
Revisiting now on DVD, I find I have no defense against the charms contained within. Is it a great movie? No, not really, but what it does do is hit all the right notes and deliver a wide-eyed spectacle that has a lot of heart. You will turn it off at the end with a smile on your face, and perhaps the desire to visit a museum to see where "history comes to life!"
Night at the Museum doesn't allow itself to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of why the museum's denizens come to life. To try to give any sort of real explanation and dig into the supernatural aspects of it would have proven to be death to the comedy. Am I sure of that? No, not at all, but that is what I feel. I much prefer the approach of getting in, accepting what is happening, and really playing up the fatastic aspects. The movie gets down to the task at hand in short order; director Shawn Levy knows what we wanted from it. With a title like Night at the Museum, we want to be immersed in the night at the museum.
Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a divorced father who is trying to connect with his son. Between the two are many barriers that must be crossed. You see, Larry is a man of many schemes, none of which work, and which have left him down on his luck, regularly evicted from his various living quarters, fired from his jobs, and wondering if the moment to connect with his son has passed. This leads him to the position of night guard at the Museum of Natural History. So, the story, at its heart, leads to the connection between father and son, and it is rather sweet to watch the progression of their relationship from the brink of disaster to the precipice of forever.
Besides that underlying theme of redemption, and probably the bigger reason to really like this movie, is everything that goes on inside the museum. The special effects are great, they are convincing and they are fun. Larry is thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. He is learning the hard way on the job. As everything comes to life, Larry finds himself completely unprepared for what goes on.
The museum contains a T. Rex skeleton that likes to play fetch, Genghis Khan, who wants to rip things, fire fascinated cavemen, the lovely Sacajawea, Teddy Roosevelt, a mummy, the fighting men of the diorama room, among all manner of other craziness. Amazingly, all of these elements come together in a story where a man realizes what he is meant to do, he takes charge and does it, and it is fantastically entertaining.
Stiller leads a spectacular all-star cast that includes Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Carla Gugino, Paul Rudd, as well as legends Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. It is hard to argue with the talent involved. All credit to Shawn Levy for keeping everything on track. Everyone plays their role and they all make you believe in what is going on.
The movie is structured in such a way that you never concern yourself with the plot holes and inconsistencies. They exist, but I really didn't care. The likability, the humor, the look, everything worked in perfect harmony to break down my defenses and allow me to really just become engrossed in what was going on in the moment. It is a lot of fun.
Audio/Video. First let me say that the version I viewed was a burned pre-release set that has a studio bug appear a couple of times onscreen, so I have no idea how closely this matches up to the final production disk. I will say that the audio sounds very good, no complaints there, but the video is a bit of a different story, and I hope the final disk looks better. Everything seemed a little washed out and there were some compression issues. I have seen worse, but I expect more from this high profile release.
Extras. The movie is available in two versions, the single disk and the two-disk special edition.
- Disk one is the same for both sets, and it is filled out with a pair of commentary tracks, one with director Shawn Levy, and the other with writers Robert Ben Garant (Deputy Junior from Reno 911!) and Thomas Lennon.
- Disk two is filled with a number of extras covering various aspects of the production, from fluff pieces to televised pieces, to segments made specifically for this release. Among the included extras are deleted scenes, a blooper reel, special effects featurettes, on-the-set footage, storyboard comparisons, the Comedy Central Reel Film special, and a couple of Fox Movie Channel Presents segments. Altogether, I liked the extras and think that they went beyond pure fluffiness and are worth springing the extra cash for.
Bottom line. I enjoyed the heck out of this movie, probably more now than when I saw it on the big screen. It has heart, it has big laughs, it has fun performances, and it has great effects, elements that all blend together into this fun, fantasy-filled family comedy. I recommend this without reservation.