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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian(2009)
Shawn Levy directs the sequel of his hit film 'Night at the Museum'. Night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), now a successful entrepreneur, returns to the Museum of Natural History to visit his friends--the exhibits that come to life at night--only to learn that they are being shipped off into deep storage at the Smithsonian Institution. To make matters worse, the exhibits at the Smithsonian, including the pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), are suddenly coming to life--and they aren'’t at all happy about their new visitors. Determined to save his friends, Larry rushes to Washington, D.C., and makes his way into the inner workings of the largest museum complex in the world while Kahmunrah recruits the likes of Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). Larry, meanwhile, finds himself with spunky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) as a co-conspirator and love interest, and General Custer (Bill Hader) leading the battle for the Smithsonian.
For more about Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and the Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray release, see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on December 3, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, Jonah Hill, Christopher Guest
Director: Shawn Levy (I)
» See full cast & crew
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray Review
“Blah, blah, blah. History, history. Learning, learning.” – Ricky Gervais
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, December 3, 2009
It's the norm nowadays; one box office success spawns a drawn-out franchise, replete with young adult book tie-ins, videogame spin-offs, and other milk-able merchandising cash cows. It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Pirates of the Caribbean, and it'll continue to happen as long as blockbusters keep skyrocketing past opening weekend intake records. I don't think too many people expected Night at the Museum to be a smash hit, but once it crossed the $250 million gross domestic revenue mark, a sequel was as inevitable as the downfall of the Roman empire. I wasn't exactly enamored with the first film—it was innocuous family fun, nothing more, nothing less—but when I heard that part two was going to be set at the Smithsonian, my inner 9-year-old got a sugar rush. Having grown up outside the beltway in northern Virginia, I'm somewhat of a Smithsonian-oholic, and the prospect of a film—even a kids' film—set inside my favorite national treasure was enough to peak my interest. Sadly, not even the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian—passably replicated here on studio soundstages—can save the film from being just a little bit of history repeated.
In the first Night at the Museum, down-and-out father Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has to win back his son's affection while contending with three scheming, geriatric fellow night guards and a whole museum's worth of dioramas that have come to life thanks to the powerful Tablet of Akmenrah. Oh, and learn the importance of following his dreams. When Battle of the Smithsonian opens, Larry has followed those dreams to the end of the rainbow—he's now a successful inventor shilling his products on infomercials—but he's not really happy. (Lesson for the kids: Don't follow your dreams. Or, follow them but prepare to be disappointed. Or, hope that you find a magical amulet that brings your favorite inanimate objects to life. Something like that.) Anyway, Larry pops into his old haunt—The American Museum of Natural History—to see how a recent renovation is shaping up. As it turns out, all his nocturnally active buddies from the first film are being shipped to the Smithsonian archives for permanent storage. Cheeky chimp Dexter (Crystal the capuchin monkey) smuggles the magical tablet along for the ride and inadvertently wakes up all the wax figures, paintings, and sculptures at the Smithsonian, including evil pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who wants to use the tablet to open the portal to the underworld and, you know, use his undead armies to take over the planet and stuff. Miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) calls Larry to persuade him to come to D.C. and help, and bingo! We've got a sequel.
What follows isn't so much a plot as it is a thin guise to wreak havoc within the normally cordoned-off exhibits of America's most prestigious museum complex. A giant marble Abraham Lincoln crashes through a window to scare off some crazy falcon-headed warriors from hell, an out-of-place squid squirms through the halls of the National Gallery, and the Air and Space Museum turns into an impromptu air show while a cadre of bobble-headed Einsteins jabbers on about pi. There's generally a lot of running around, as Larry hooks up with spunky aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and tries to avoid Kahmunrah's henchmen—Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), and Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, wasted). In between hotfooting it from one museum to another, Amelia tries to impart the film's token message. That is, to do what you love with the people you love. Since this film summarily tosses out the message of the first, perhaps the inescapable third film can begin with Larry hating his job and loving no one.
There's no plot because, unlike the days of yore when kids' movies were allowed to have some darkness and bite, there's no danger here whatsoever. (As an aside, I love that Maurice Sendak basically chewed out hand-wringing parents who thought that Where the Wild Things Are might be too scary. Then again, I'm not a parent.) It's a kind of joke in the film that Kahmunrah is essentially impotent as a baddie—vocal artist extraordinaire Hank Azaria plays him like an arch Boris Karloff with a lisp—and we never get a sense that any of the characters could actually be in peril. The closest we get is tiny Jedediah trapped in an hourglass—our hero's motivation and the film's version of a ticking time bomb. I guess the real moral here is that you don't need a compelling story if you've got slap-fighting monkeys, CGI squirrels, and the Jonas Brothers as serenading cherubs.
It really says a lot that the film's funniest scene comes from Jonah Hill in a five-minute cameo as a museum guard. It's obvious that a lot of the dialogue throughout was improvised, and most of it unfortunately fizzles. For a film with such an abundance of comedic masterminds—Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, etc.—it's surprising how often the jokes are just cringingly bad. Aside from the in-and-out performance by Jonah Hill, the film's most consistent source of laughs is Hank Azaria, who effectively steals the show, making the gaps between his appearances increasingly more tedious. Ben Stiller is his usual frazzled and bewildered self, and though Amy Adams is an absolute darling as Amelia Earhart—I know some of you are especially delighted by her form-fitting aviator's pants—the resolution given to her character feels cheap. At its best, Battle of the Smithsonian is an absurd romp that uses historical figures and famous works of art as one-shot comedic novelties, and this will be enough to entertain most kids. Aside from some double entendres and a few jokes that will whiz over the heads of the youngsters, though, there's not much here to keep adults from nodding off.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray, Video Quality
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian comes alive on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I popped in the included DVD for comparison and, as expected, there's no contest; the Blu-ray version is sharper, ultra- colorful, and much more vivid. Throughout the movie's run-time I was impressed by the depth of the color saturation. Steve Coogan's cloak is an absolutely intense red, Ben Stiller's guard uniform is a deep blue, and every corner of the frame bursts with color, from the bold golden yellows of Egyptian relics to Amy Adams' fiery orange hair. Contrast runs a little hot during the few outdoor daytime scenes, but once we get inside the museum the image is nearly perfectly tuned, with inky and substantial blacks and luminous but never overblown highlights, all coming together to create a satisfying sense of dimensionality and presence. The black and white scene inside the VJ- Day photograph is equally impressive, with a strong gradation of smooth grays. Clarity is excellent in both close-ups and long shots; just examine the intricate detailing on Hank Azaria's tunic or watch as he sits in Archie Bunker's recliner atop a pile of ornate treasures. Shot on 35mm, NATMBOTS definitely retains its filmic quality in this transfer, with a thin layer of fine grain that gives the image some cinematic warmth, and that carries no traces of DNR or overt edge enhancement. My only real complaint is that some of the digital inserts and artificial backgrounds can flatten the otherwise dimensional image.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Compared to the stellar visuals, Battle of the Smithsonian's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track comes as somewhat of a disappointment. With all the shenanigans and tomfoolery caused by museum pieces come to life, I was expecting a raucously immersive audio experience. Instead, I got a much more subdued track that's almost entirely front-heavy for the first half of the film. Even when the action heats up, there's really not as much engagement as there could have been. Take the scene inside the Air and Space Museum; there are rockets warming up and dozens of aircraft taking off and flying about, but the rear channels only get a few timid fly-bys and swooshes. Where are the loud cross-channel dynamics and pin-point pans? Or listen to the climactic battle scene; for a sequence of such action and intensity, the soundstage is comparatively barren. There are some nice flourishes—like the tinkling of shattered glass on the floor as the Wright Flyer crashes through a window—but the sound design is surprisingly anemic. That said, Alan Silvestri's larger-than-life score picks up some of the slack with deep bass, frenetic orchestration, and pounding electronic elements. Dialogue is almost always clean, clear, and easily understood, though there were a few moments when it could stand to be a little louder in the mix. There are some missed opportunities here for a truly bombastic audio track, but the mix is at least well-balanced and dynamically solid.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
First up is a solo track by director Shawn Levy, who stars off with unflagging enthusiasm but gets a bit spotty toward the end of the track. More consistently listenable is the track by writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, but neither commentary offers anything more than your standard outline of production details, story considerations, and behind-the-scenes insights.
Scavenger Hunt Mode
A trivia track is always an effective way to increase replay value, and this disc includes two difficulty levels that each offer separate trivia experiences. To play, you utilize the red, green, blue, and yellow buttons on your remote to identify people and objects in the film.
The Curators of Comedy: Behind-the-Scenes of Night at the Museum 2 (1080p, 27:52)
Director Shawn Levy starts this substantial behind-the-scenes featurette by explaining that he only wanted to do a sequel if he dreamt up an idea that was not only bigger, but also better. Most of the focus here is on the cast—everyone seems to have something nice about everyone else— but we also get an inside look at the construction of the film's enormous sets and period-accurate props.
Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words (1080p, 6:29)
Each of the film's historical characters is given a chance here to say a few "last words" about their legacies. The attempt is to be funny, but like the film, a lot of the improvised humor falls flat.
Directing 101: A Day in the Life of Director/Producer Shawn Levy (1080p, 19:19)
This is exactly what it sounds like. We follow director Shawn Levy from his morning catered breakfast to the evening's wrap, and everything in between, including the filming of several key greenscreen sequences and a look at the dailies. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Levy's self- congratulatory enthusiasm gets tiring after awhile.
Caveman Conversations: Survival of the Wittiest (1080p, 4:18)
The three cavemen from the film grunt incoherently in response to an interviewer's questions. Not nearly as funny as those Geico commercials.
Museum Magic: Entering the World of the Photograph (1080p, 5:41)
Director Shawn Levy and visual effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw guide us through the film's recreation of the famous VJ-Day photo of the sailor kissing a nurse.
Secret Doors and Scientists: Behind-the-Scenes of The American Museum of Natural History (1080p, 15:58)
This is probably the best feature on the disc, and it only relates marginally to the film itself. In Secret Doors and Scientists we're taken inside the research labs at the American Museum, meeting a variety of scientists who explain their day-to-day operations.
Phinding Pharaoh (1080p, 4:50)
Through a sequence of screen tests and interviews with Hank Azeria, we're taken through the progression of voices that led to the pharaoh's Boris Karloff-with-a-lisp vocalizations.
Show Me the Monkey Featurettes (1080p, 17:59)
There are three featurettes here showing the on-set monkey-wrangling, but the real reason to watch is Crystal, the ridiculously cute and talented primate who stars in the film and has an IMDB listing longer than that of most actors.
The Jonas Brothers in Cherub Bootcamp (1080p, 3:53)
Everybody's favorite tweener boy group goes through an intense training regiment for their appearance as cherubs in the film.
Deleted Scenes (1080p, 26:44)
Eleven deleted scenes are included, along with an alternate ending. All are available with optional commentary by director Shawn Levy.
Gangster Levy (1080p, 1:57)
For the museum's Al Capone display, director Shawn Levy needed a clip of gangsters firing machine guns in slow motion. When he couldn't dredge one up from the archives, he decided to film one himself, staring himself.
Gag Reel (1080p, 8:10)
Yes, an 8-minute gag reel. There are some knee-slappers in here—mostly from Jonah Hill and Hank Azaria—but you'll have to sit through a lot of flubbed lines to get to them.
Fox Movie Channel Presents (SD)
There are two installments of Fox Movie Channel Presents here. In "Making a Scene" (9:36) we see the production of the sequence inside the Air and Space Museum, and in "World Premiere" (5:29) the figurative red carpet is rolled out for the film's stars, who answer a few questions about the production.
Includes high definition trailers for Aliens in the Attic, Fame, Amelia, (500) Days of Summer, Post Grad, All About Steve, and Glee.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While Battle of the Smithsonian is definitely just more of the same, it's at least a lot more, with bigger action set-pieces, a larger cast of comedians, and much more spacious museum to explore. I couldn't personally get into the film, but this really is a top-notch Blu-ray package, with almost faultless picture quality, a solid audio track, and hours of supplementary materials. Plus, you get a DVD that you can chuck into the kids' room and a digital copy that you can load onto your portable entertainment device, if you're so inclined. If you liked the first Night at the Museum, then this sequel is an obvious purchase. Otherwise, I'd recommend a rental first.
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