Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (Blu-ray)
Directed by Shawn Levy
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 105 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, others
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: December 1, 2009
Review Date: November 30, 2009
The sequel to Night at the Museum may be bigger and bolder than the first film in the franchise but that doesn’t make it necessarily better. In the case of the second time around with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, the concept may have lost a lot of its freshness and zip, but an incredible cast of improvisational comedians and a fresh location helps keep the film’s comic head above water. There’s still lots of fun to be had with many of the endearing characters who were introduced in the original movie, and the new faces in the latest installment are often imaginatively represented and certainly quite welcome.
It’s two years after the events of the first film, and night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has left his post at the Museum of Natural History to exploit his lucrative gadget business Daley’s Designs. Upon learning that many of his favorite exhibits from the museum are being retired and put away in storage, he spends one last night with them. A frantic call from miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) from the basement of the Smithsonian, however, finds Larry rushing to Washington to their defense. It seems the incensed Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) has decided he wants to achieve global domination, and he calls upon fellow sultans of power Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) for assistance. It’s all-out war between the museum forces of good and evil while Larry meets up with Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), a combination that strikes sparks which even Larry realizes can’t really amount to much given she’s in reality a wax figure who only comes alive at night.
The film is overly loud and busy, of course, and there’s really not enough story to support 105 minutes, but director Shawn Levy has allowed this massive cast of talented improvisers to have their way with their characters veering away from the rattletrap Thomas Lennon-Robert Ben Garant script and riffing on their clothes, their accents, and everything around them. There’s some inspired use of some famous paintings and photographs (Stiller and Adams jump into the famous Life magazine photograph of the sailor kissing a girl on VJ-Day in one of the film's more delightful moments), and it’s nice to see a Degas ballerina, the statue of Lincoln from his Memorial, and The Thinker present, even if their uses are rather rudimentary. Al Capone and his henchmen always being represented in black and white is typical of the marvelous special effects that the movie is famous for (it’s enjoyable seeing Steve Coogan’s Octavius attempting to cross the wide expanse of the museum lawn in both miniature and life size, too) and the usual combination of miniatures, green screen, and CGI work mesh well to make this fantastical world come to life. The life-size sets representing rooms in the Smithsonian are superbly constructed and impressive indeed.
Ben Stiller assumes the character of Larry he created in the original, two years older but not much wiser in terms of the sensitivity he needs to realize what’s important in his life. The supporting cast, however, has a field day with their broad, boisterous characterizations. Hank Azaria plays his Egyptian role with a Boris Karloff accent (drawing obviously on Universal’s original The Mummy) to hilarious effect while Bill Hader is a hysterical General Custer. Christopher Guest’s Ivan the Terrible and Alain Chabat’s Napoleon have a great comic rapport. With less to do in the sequel, Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt and Owen Wilson as Jedediah make only minor impressions this time out. In for some quick comic bits are Jonah Hill as an inexperienced but haughty Smithsonian guard, Ricky Gervais reprising his role as Natural History museum director Dr. McPhee, and Mindy Kaling as a wiseacre museum guide. Amy Adams makes a lovely, plucky love interest for Stiller’s Larry.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. For the most part, the image is beautifully, deeply colorful with superb flesh tones and sharpness that makes the entire picture continually pop. Only in one or two shots does the image go oddly digital in appearance snatching one out of the moviegoing experience briefly before returning to its previous luster. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix takes its time in becoming impressive. For the first half hour, the sound seems disappointingly frontcentric with only an occasional bit of Alan Silvestri’s musical score having any surround impact. Then, once action picks up at the Smithsonian, the channels all come alive with wonderfully creative uses of the surrounds for ambient effects and sweeping pans as the fight between the conflicting sides gains momentum. For an action comedy, the sound design inevitably delivers the goods quite admirably.
There are two audio commentaries. Director Shawn Levy has one track all to himself which begins in quite animated fashion and then devolves into more silence than speech. Writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant chatter away continually in their track with the camaraderie that years of working together have brought them. Much of what they have to say, unfortunately, is prattle and without much substance.
“Museum Scavenger Hunt Game” allows the user to play a hunt object and people game while watching the movie using the colored buttons on the remote. There are both easy and hard versions of the hunt.
All featurettes, unless otherwise noted, are presented in 1080p.
“The Curators of Comedy” is a 28-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film featuring interviews with the director and the stars as they talk about their roles and their work ethic with one another. There is also a tour of the sets by production designer Claude Pare and some discussion of the special effects.
“Historical Confessions” is a 6 ½-minute series of improvisational interviews with Bill Hader, Alain Chabat, Christopher Guest, and Jon Bernthal in character as they answer a series of questions about their personalities.
“Directing 201” is a day in the life of director Shawn Levy as he helms a series of sequences featuring Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan in miniature during the climactic fight scenes of the movie. It runs 19 ½ minutes.
“Cavemen Conversations” is the lamest of the bonus features, 4 ¼ minutes of three actors in their cavemen costumes and makeup grunting out gibberish as an interviewer asks them a series of questions.
“Museum Magic: Entering the World of the Photograph” shows how the special effects sequence where Ben Stiller and Amy Adams enter into the World War II photograph was accomplished. This interesting featurette runs 5 ¾ minutes.
“Secret Doors and Scientists” is a 16-minute tour of the American Museum of Natural History featuring interviews with various curators, preservationists, and scientists talking about their fascinating work in the museum.
“Phinding Pharaoh” is an amusing 4 ¾ minutes of screen tests as actor Hank Azaria tries a series of different accents for his character before settling on the Boris Karloff-inspired cadence.
There are three “Show Me the Monkey” featurettes, all concerning Crystal and Squirt (and their trainers) who act in the film. The three featurettes may be watched as one long 18-minute romp of they may be watched individually as “Monkey Business,” “Primate Prima Donnas,” and “A Day in the Life of Crystal and Squirt.”
“Jonas Brothers in Cherub Bootcamp” is a tongue-in-cheek session with the Jonas Brothers (who voice and sing the cherubs in the movie) being put through their heavenly paces by director Shawn Levy. It runs for 3 ¾ minutes.
There are eleven deleted scenes and an alternate ending which can be watched in one 26 ¾-minute grouping or individually. They may also be watched with or without director commentary.
“Gangster Levy” is a brief 2-minute film clip with director Shawn Levy and the assistant director Josh McLagen playing gangsters in clip from a ‘30s-style gangster movie used in a loop on an LCD screen in the museum.
The film’s gag reel runs for 8 ¼ minutes.
The Fox Movie Channel Presents Making a Scene finds the film’s director, writers, and select actors (including a cameo by Clint Howard) discussing the filming of the “No Go for Launch” sequence. This runs for 9 ½ minutes in 480i.
The Fox Movie Channel: World Premiere features reporter Tava Smiley interviewing the director and some of the stars in Washington, D.C., for the film’s world premiere. This 480i featurette runs 5 ½ minutes.
The set also contains a DVD copy of the movie with some (but not all) of the bonus features listed above.
Included in the set is a digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
The disc includes 1080p trailers for Avatar, Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Squeekquel, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Flicka 2, Aliens in the Attic, Fame, Amelia, (500) Days of Summer, All About Steve, and Glee (in 480i).
4/5 (not an average)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has lots of good natured (and family friendly) gags which go a long way toward redeeming the now too familiar concept. A beautiful Blu-ray picture and sound encode combined with some interesting extras make for a nominally recommended piece of entertainment.