I suppose it was inescapable, really. The first Night At The Museum entry was a bit of a surprise. Not so much of a “we didn’t anticipate another Ben Stiller film (with an obligatory appearance by Owen Wilson)” kind of surprise, but rather in the more enlightening “a Ben Stiller film actually inspired kids to get up off of their lazy text-messaging asses and go to real life museums to learn” sort of way. Sure, the first film had that patented Ben Stiller form of comedy (e.g. people bickering in a weird, mumbling, passive-aggressive manner), but it was still a hit with parents and them young’uns alike. And so, three years after the surprise hit Night At The Museum hit theaters, Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian thrust itself upon us.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has come a long way since the events depicted in the first film. He has started a very lucrative industry, wherein he sells innovative devices such as a glow-in-the-dark flashlight via television infomercials (and the uneasy reminiscing about Stiller’s Envy begins). But, being filthy stinking rich has left Larry feeling a bit hollow on the inside, and he longs to rekindle his friendship with the exhibits in the museum (who came to life during the night by a magical ancient tablet thingy). Stopping in one day, Larry learns from his old boss, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), that a majority of the exhibits are being transferred to the Smithsonian — which means they will effectively lose their nocturnal lives (or something to that effect). Basically, it’s a rather flimsy and quickly-rushed-through preface in order to set up the main premise of the film: the exhibits of the Smithsonian coming to life and wreaking havoc.
In Washington D.C., Larry steals the ID card of a moronic security guard (a cameo by Jonah Hill results in more weird, mumbling, passive-aggressive bickering) and effectively breaks into the Smithsonian (you’ll have to suspend any disbelief for this film, so let’s just get that out of the way now) to see his pals. Unfortunately, there’s a new villain in town: an evil Egyptian ruler named Kahmunrah (played by Hank Azaria, who gives us his best lisping Boris Karloff impersonation), and he’s intent on taking over the world. Kahmunrah recruits such exhibits as a young Al Capone, Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest) to assist him, all the while keeping Larry‘s old friends imprisoned. And so, in order to save his pals (and possibly, the world), Larry reluctantly teams up with the spunky Amelia Earhart (brought to life by actress Amy Adams).
Look, do I really have to explain the plot of this film any further for you? In a nutshell: various inanimate objects come to life to fight a battle within one of America’s most famous museums. That’s it. Period. As one can expect, there are a lot of cameos from celebrities and classic artwork alike (Darth Vader fans, take note), all of which either serve as the butt of a joke, or come with their own jokes pre-installed. Kids will no doubt enjoy it immensely, as will most families (dads will probably be pronounced as “dead” if they are not in the least bit thrilled by co-star Amy Adams’ oh-so-flattering aviator’s pants), so if you’re looking for a good popcorn feature for Friday night, this is it.
On Blu-ray, Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian gets a pristine 1080p/AVC transfer and is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. Colors are very bright, and the contrast is extremely sharp throughout — with no signs of debris to distract the viewer from this visually-appealing High Def presentation. Accompanying the solid picture is a DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 soundtrack. The mix itself is great, and comes through beautifully during the more rambunctious moments of the film. Alas, the more dialogue-oriented scenes appear as if they’ve been left in the dust by comparison, and seem rather quiet. Overall, though, it’s a good listen — and shan’t disappoint. Spanish and French 5.1 DD soundtracks are also included, and subtitles are provided in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.
Special features are aplenty here. First off, there are two audio commentaries (one with director Shawn Levy, and the other with writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon). Both tracks offer the participants a chance to give their two-cents on of the film, but don’t fall under the “must-listen-to” category just the same. A “Scavenger Hunt Mode” feature is on-par with other trivia tracks on recent Fox Home Entertainment releases (in as much as it’s a nice idea, but isn’t anything I can’t live without), and has two levels of difficulty.
Several thousand featurettes (most of which are presented in High Def) highlight the making of the film, including the writing, actors, directing, historical aspects, etc., and have a runtime of over two hours. Several deleted scenes and the perfunctory gag reel are included in this gathering of tidbits, which are hit-and-miss. The sole Standard Definition extra is compiled from a couple of Fox Movie Channel Presents chapters. The last bonus items are a handful of trailers (in 1080p) for several other new Fox releases. The Blu-ray edition also includes a SD-DVD disc of the film, along with a third disc containing a Digital Copy of the main feature.
In conclusion, Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian is an amusing popcorn film. It’s rather empty at times, but has enough sights and sounds going for it (hey, at least the CGI FX are good for a change!) that the kids’ll love it. Adults just might, too.