Review for Night at the Museum / Night at the Museum 2 Double Pack
Here’s a public service announcement that you’ll probably see from now on, every time I review a title from Twentieth Century Fox. If you have any favourite movie or TV show that was released under the Twentieth Century Fox banner that you haven’t yet got around to buying, get it now. Don’t wait for a sale or a bargain basement moment. Buy it. You see, since Disney bought Twentieth Century Fox from News Corp, they’re quickly disassociating themselves from the Murdoch name, which means for one thing changing the name back to Twentieth Century Pictures. It also means letting all the Fox back catalogue go out of print, and even the more notable titles will be shoved into that Disney vault where they stick their own animated features for years on end to build up consumer demand and jack up prices. Also Disney’s family friendly focus may not allow edgier niche Fox titles to ever see the light of day again. Even now, some movies and TV shows are hard to find where they were saturating the market not twelve months ago. Good luck getting The X Files on Blu-ray!
The Night at the Museum franchise isn’t one of my favourites though, films that I would be bereft without, otherwise I would have bought all three. I just happened to take a chance on a twin-pack in a pound store to see what all the fuss was about 14 years after the first film came out. My first thought was that they had ripped off Mannequin. I really need to get out of the eighties more.
You get the Blu-rays for Night at the Museum and Night at the Museum 2 in a BD Amaray with one disc on a centrally hinged panel.
Introduction: Night at the Museum
Larry Daley is a dreamer, a man pursuing one entrepreneurial scheme after another, but his waywardness puts strains on his family. He’s divorced, his ex-wife is about to remarry, and his son is now looking to his prospective step-dad as a role model instead of his father. Larry needs some stability in his life, a steady job at least, and although he’s not the most qualified applicant, he does manage to get a position as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History. The museum isn’t doing too well, and is replacing an aging team of three, with just one guard, but the men he is replacing aren’t bitter. Indeed they are a font of advice, and even give him a handy manual to help him on his rounds. He’s going to need it too, because thanks to an ancient Egyptian curse, the exhibits in this museum come to life every night, and given that they are imbued with their original personalities and natures, Larry will have a hard time holding onto this job while dealing with rampaging animals, giant statues of Egyptian gods, miniature Romans and Cowboys, and Attila the Hun!
The Disc: Night at the Museum
Night at the Museum is presented on a single layer Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and DTS 5.1 Surround German with subtitles in these languages. The image is really quite pleasant, detailed and crisp with rich and lush colours, just as you would expect from a family adventure film. It might be a smidge soft in places but it’s certainly not detrimental to the viewing experience. The surrounds are put to good use bringing across the action, while the dialogue is clear throughout. The music suits the film well.
Extras: Night at the Museum
The disc plays the film automatically on insertion, and following a couple of copyright screens will loop back to the start when it ends. The only way to access the disc’s options is through a pop-up menu.
On the disc you’ll find a rather dry and scripted, if informative audio commentary from director Shawn Levy. There are also trailers for both this film, and Ice Age 2.
An odd thing is that the theatrical trailer is presented in 2.40:1 ratio, which had me racing for the IMDB. Sure enough, while the trailer may be in scope, the film was theatrically distributed as 1.85:1. The film isn’t cropped on this disc.
Conclusion: Night at the Museum
It’s more a cross between Mannequin and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, but Night at the Museum really is good, family fun. You could have gone the Bill and Ted route and sent the protagonists hurtling through time, but allowing recreations of historical personages to come to life in a museum, thanks to a curse accomplishes much the same thing. It’s a fun adventure movie with great characters and delightful performances, and with just enough in the way of history and nature that, if you’re lucky, might get the little ones asking questions.
It does begin with the usual cliché of a broken family, and a father having to live up to the expectations of an adoring son, during those brief days that he has access courtesy of a custody agreement. It’s when he’s forced to move thanks to another failed scheme that he realises that he’s jeopardising his relationship with his son due to his unstable life, and he finally seeks out some stability by applying for a job.
Stability is the last thing he finds as a night guard at a museum where the exhibits come to life after dark, and he's initially run ragged by the mayhem, and especially by a mischievous monkey. But once he gets a handle on things, he sees the magical museum as a chance to score some kudos points with his son. But things get out of hand when the tablet behind the curse at the museum is stolen.
Night at the Museum benefits from an all star cast having a lot of fun in their respective roles. It’s a comedy with a lot of heart, although on occasion it does go for the low hanging fruit. I don’t think Ben Stiller has been more Ben Stiller in any other movie franchise, and I have to admit that I rolled my eyes at the monkey slapping scene. I’m surprised that it’s actually Robin Williams as a waxwork Theodore Roosevelt who anchors the film and provides the gravitas.
A fun family film gets a solid Blu-ray, and while it doesn’t achieve enough to become a memorable classic, it’s still a good way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Introduction: Night at the Museum 2
A few years have passed, and Larry Daley has found the success that so eluded him before. He’s no longer a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York and is now getting rich off his innovations company. He has less and less time to visit his friends at the museum. But then one day, he learns that the museum is suffering cutbacks, will be upgrading to cutting edge technology to attract punters, and many of the old exhibits will be moved to storage in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, including most of his friends. They’re all boxed up and ready to be shipped out, but on the way, Dexter the capuchin steals the tablet of Ahkmenrah.
The next thing Larry knows, he’s getting a phone call from Jedediah the miniature cowboy calling for help. All the exhibits at the Smithsonian are now coming to life, including Kahmunrah, Ahkmenrah’s evil older brother. It turns out that there is more to the tablet than the resurrection curse, and with it, Kahmunrah can take over the world. Larry will have to get to Washington to save the day.
The Disc: Night at the Museum 2
Night at the Museum 2 does indeed get a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with a plethora of sound and subtitle options, including DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DTS 5.1 Surround French, Italian, and Russian and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Hungarian, Ukrainian and English audio descriptive, with English SDH, French, Italian, Croatian, Dutch, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Ukrainian subs. The dual layer Blu-ray allows for such extravagance and extra features, while the image quality is a slight step up over the first film in terms of clarity and detail. The effects are still seamless and it’s a wholly enjoyable viewing experience, while the audio is nice and immersive for the action sequences, and the dialogue is clear throughout.
Extras: Night at the Museum 2
The first film might have been light in extras, but this second one more than makes up for it. The disc boots to an animated menu after trailers for Ice Age – Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Aliens in the Attic, and Amelia.
You get two commentaries on this film, one from director Shawn Levy, and one from the writers, Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.
The Scavenger Hunt Mode is a little collect-‘em-up game you can play while watching the film.
The Curators of Comedy: Behind the Scenes of Night at the Museum 2 lasts 27:52.
Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words lasts 6:29.
Directing 201: A Day in the Life of Director/Producer Shawn Levy lasts 19:19.
Caveman Conversations: Survival of the Wittiest lasts 4:18.
Museum Magic: Entering the World of the Photographs lasts 5:41.
Secret Doors and Scientists: Behind-the-Scenes of The American Museum of Natural History lasts 15:58.
Phinding Pharaoh lasts 4:50.
Primate Prima Donnas lasts 6:27.
The Jonas Brothers in Cherub Bootcamp (3:53).
Most of these featurettes alternate between light-hearted behind the scenes informative and silly goofing off.
There are 12 Deleted Scenes which run to 26:44 in total, and there is an optional director’s commentary.
Gangster Levy lasts 1:57.
The Gag Reel lasts 7:51.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene (9:36).
Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere (5:29).
Conclusion: Night at the Museum 2
The sequel can be a tough thing to get right. You want more of the same as the first film to attract the fans, but you want enough that is new to avoid repeating the original. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but Night at the Museum actually manages to achieve this tough balancing act, and is a worthy continuation to the first film. Certainly if you’re looking for more of the mayhem that occurs when museum exhibits come to life, then you won’t be disappointed.
Things get taken up a level when the true purpose to the magical tablet is revealed, and this film gets a definite antagonist in the form of Kahmunrah, and his plan to take over the world. This calls for some definitive heroism from the protagonists, in an adventure where saving the day means a lot more than making sure the exhibits are all safely tucked back into their glass cases before the sun rises each morning.
The character story is also different, with Larry Daley starting from a place of success, as opposed to the divorcee loser he was in the first film. Now he’s made it as an entrepreneur, he’s initially portrayed as a man who is just too busy to enjoy life, having lost touch with what actually makes him happy. So this adventure comes as a means for him to reconnect with what he actually sees as important.
The second thing is that he’s not alone in this adventure, as he’s joined pretty early on by the re-animated figure of Amelia Earhart, the famous pilot, who sees fighting evil with Larry as a chance to have some fun. So you get this romance developing along with the adventure, with Larry overwhelmed by this peppy and unconventional heroine. The magic reveals new tricks as well, as this time paintings and photos are re-animated too, and in Red Dwarf, Timeslides style, become windows into history.
The adventure really steps up a gear from the first film, and makes this a worthwhile sequel, while the character arcs move things along as well, instead of just rehashing. That leaves the comedy, which isn’t quite on point. You’d expect to see more monkey slapping, given it was such a signature of the first film; nevertheless it is tedious when it happens. But there’s something about the dialogue in this film that is so clichéd. I certainly noticed it when Ben Stiller had a confrontation with a Smithsonian guard played by Jonah Hill, and in his confrontations with Hank Azaria’s Kahmunrah, that the dialogue is so familiar in rhythm and tone, that it could be interchangeable with half a dozen other Ben Stiller comedies. I got the feeling that they don’t need writers, they just push a Stiller-dialogue button on a computer and they use whatever generic blurb it spits out.
But the film is entertaining, and as I said, the characters are likeable. The Blu-ray certainly does the film justice in terms of the transfer, and while most of the extras are disposable, they are also welcome on this disc after the anaemic first film.
Most US film comedians have a style which they stick to, and that has often been a turn-off for me in appreciating US film comedy. There’s only so much Jim Carrey gurning you can take before you start looking elsewhere. Ben Stiller is one such idiosyncratic performer, and you do have to be in the mood for his brand of comedy to really appreciate it. Thankfully, I was in the mood while watching these first two Night at the Museum films, and it was only as the end credits rolled at the end of the second that I was struck by the obvious plot hole, that in the winter in the Northern hemisphere, most museums stay open after sunset! These films are a nice bit of disposable fun, and a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours.