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Night at the Museum

Fox // PG // April 24, 2007
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 19, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Keeping the whole family entertained, including the kids and both Mom and Dad, is quite a chore. Family adventure movies usually send kids' minds into a state of dazed inertia, while the grown-ups get a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink substance with a few one-liners. Night at the Museum, Shaun Levy's new family comedy, gets the kids part right, but leaves the older audience high and dry. Sure, all the razzle-dazzle and computer effects are top shelf and extremely cool to look at. However, this is all a sweet icing layer that'll satisfy younger taste buds without giving that substance, whether it be sentiment or nudge-nudge comedy, to the older crowd.

The Film:

Larry Daley is constantly down on his luck. Divorced and flushing from dead-end job to dead-end job to keep afloat, he tried with all his might to come up with "the" original idea that will make him rich. However, when times get tough and another eviction notice is eminent, Larry has to find a job. Fast. He catches word through his employment agency of a "no chance" job position at the local Museum. Desperate, Larry surges forward to grasp the opportunity.

Low and behold, this "high-profile" job is actually a night guard position that'll replace the entire aging security staff. Led by Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), this crew is responsible for selecting the perfect candidate to take over the duty. It's a whale of a duty, as Larry's first uninformed night unravels. Thanks to some potent magic flooding through the hallways radiating from an enchanted Egyptian tablet, this mammoth museum quakes and spurts to vivid life at sundown. Nothing escapes this animation, from historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) to monstrous creatures of old and present. Larry is in for one heck of a night.

Sounds like a cool setup, right? Don't get too excited.

Aesthetically, Night at the Museum renders into one visually rapturous piece of work. Constructing a better museum and a better host of critters inside would be very difficult. Even though the computer-generated work is obviously just that, the quality is so amazing that it doesn't matter. There's a mean, colorful palette at work in this film, too. All the voluptuous coloring is fanatically saturated and a heavy workout on the eyes, but in that pleasant way. It's dazzling fanfare pouring from trumpets in blazing rainbows.

However, an issue pops up quick and sticks throughout Night at the Museum's visual sumptuousness. As a whole, Levy's newest family-friendly treat just isn't very funny. There are a few choice scenes, including a duel between Larry and a monkey named Dexter, that'll muster a laugh or two. However, most of the lunacy bouncing off the walls in Night at the Museum doesn't tickle the funny bone the way it should. It's a matter of wanting to laugh, really wanting to laugh – but just not being able to. Where the visual side delivers the goods, the lacking humor steals those positive vibes right back. The script, though sporting an attractive premise amidst plenty of improv, drives Night and the Museum plummeting downward due to some exceedingly weak dialogue.

This is a true shame, because the talent behind the dialogue in Night at the Museum brims with seasoned potential. It's not everyday that a film claims Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney as cohort night guards training goofball newby Stiller with Robin Williams springing to life as a wax Teddy Roosevelt. Add in the warmth of Carla Gugino as a history-nerd docent in the museum, Night at the Museum has promise plastered from head to toe. They all try excruciatingly hard to make the best of some dull dialogue, and deserve praise for such.

Let's shift mentality here for a second. Remember, this is a film engineered for the run-of-the-mill family night, not a masterpiece of cinema. Average moviegoers looking for a comedy or Zathura-style adventure still might find themselves rolling their eyes in disappointment; on the other hand, this dizzying kaleidoscope of lunacy should be a great time-waster for a bit over an hour and a half. Ultimately, the effects, animals, and goofy characters should win over younger audiences. It's a shame that adults couldn't be included more in the fun.

The DVD:

Night at the Museum comes in two different releases – a single-disc release, and the Two Disc Special Edition release as reviewed here. Though it's a studio screener copy, it came included with a lenticular-covered slipcase featuring groovy manipulated artwork featuring the film's characters.

The Video:

Fox presents Night at the Museum in a widescreen presentation that reflects the theatrical presentation of the film. That's about all to be said about the image. Sadly, the video quality on Fox pre-release DVDs is typically quite grainy, pixilated, and just muddy as all get out. Interestingly enough, though it is flawed with the watermark and horrible grain, the image looks like it'll be pretty fantastic once finalized. The film's rich palette of colors pours through bright and brilliant. This visual movie should and probably will have a great visual presentation.

The Audio:

An option or two are available when watching Night at the Museum. At the ready is a English Dolby 5.1 track, as well as an English dts track. Now, all dinosaur footsteps and bombast score aside, this isn't a rock-the-socks-off aural movie. Theres a lot of yelling, running around, and animal sounds without many large blasts of sound and such. Here's a point that kind of a downfall, however: much of the film's aural presentation remained tight and active, but predominately in the front speakers with the surround channels trickling in the back rather softly. There's a few instances when some effects whizzed by to the back, but in general the activity was pretty minimal. Even though the rear channels weren't terribly active, the sound provided is pretty rich and dynamic. While both surround tracks were suitable, the dts wins out with thick, rich detail and much crisper voices. A noticeably stronger punch is available during those few loud moments in the film with the dts option locked in. Also available are Dolby Sorround tracks in English and French, while subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

The Extras:

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Disc One sports two (2!) commentaries, one from director Shawn Levy and the other from writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. Shawn Levy is, without a doubt, quite exciting and insightful to listen to, especially when it involves a project he's passionate about. On the other hand, the commentary from the writers is very, very funny and entertainingly perceptive at the same time.

On Disc Two, just about everything desirable to watch about the film is available. It's all quite exhaustive, actually. The "Tour" is split up into five separate portions:

- Loading Dock
- The Hall of Biodiversity
- The Security Office
- Stage Coach
- Rexy (DVD-ROM)

Loading Dock

The Loading Dock rounds up all the Extended and Deleted Scenes from the film. Levy has recorded a commentary for this portion as well, which will probably grip the viewer more than the deleted material itself. Most of the deleted material rightfully deserves its place in the Loading Dock. There are a few scenes that Levy is passionate about, both positive and negative, that are worth a look.

The Hall of Biodiversity

This section seems to be the most youngster-friendly of the bonus material. It featured more of the goofier and entertaining aspects of making the film.

Bringing the Museum to Life is a featurette on assembling the museum, from storyboards and bluescreens to the CG-effects taken to give the museum substance. There's a lot of material on Stiller's participation in the film, as well as the segmented sections across the

Directing 101 slaps together a montage of director Levy's crazy, albeit productive, antics on the set as he yells and screams off-screen in place of CG elements.

Blooper Reel is just that, a blooper reel packed with goofy mix-ups in dialogue, spills across the set, and jut sheer craziness that happened off-screen. One hilarious scene with Robin Williams and his horse is worth the time alone.

Monkey Business features Dexter (also known as Crystal) the Capuchin monkey featured in the film. By far, Dexter is involved with one of the funnier scenes in the film. Seeing how all the antics come about and how the filmmakers feel about her presence is short and fun to watch.

Comedy Central's Reel Comedy: Night at the Museum is an uninteresting network fluff piece that ran to promote the film. Most of the material seen in this little bit can be viewed in other places on the extra material.

The Security Office

Let's just change the name of this section to the Hall of Film Construction. These choice items bring together some of the processes taken by the filmmakers and actors in this film's construction process.

If the Bringing the Museum to Life portion wasn't enough, a featurette on Building the Museum is also included. This portion, however, discusses more of the production values and assembly of the museum as a set piece.

Historical Threads: The Custumes of Night and the Museum talks about the lengths taken in the film to establish some credibility with the film's costumes. Instead of attempting to nail down meticulous adaptation to history, the costume designers had to take viewer interest into effect to make them visually amusing.

The Director's Vision Comes Alive highlights the storyboard to screen translation for Night at the Museum. Always interesting to see, this storyboard format sprawls out across the screen in a nice manner, with the full storyboard as a background and pictured in the lower right corner, while the actual film image cycles in the upper left corner.

Stage Coach

Ahh, there's more. Oh yes, there's more. This is a section encapsulating all the other material not present in the other sections.

A Making Of Night at the Museum featurette is included that feels a bit repetitive. This portion focuses more on the entire film than Bringing the Museum To Live. It centers on the story's core and the actor's impressions on the film as a whole. There's a fair amount of behind the scenes material not featured in the rest of the film, Compared with the rest of the bonus material, however, this piece starts to go into overkill land. Check this featurette out before the rest.

A Few Fox Movie Channel pieces are included, one revolving around Making the Scene and another centric on Shawn Levy and his Life After Film School. The second featurette is interesting, as a few younger film enthusiasts interview Levy about his development as a director. Levy's backstory, and his focus on a specific crowd, is strongly evident in this portion.

Finally, a few Trailers are included, two for Night and the Museum, one for Robots and one for Dr. Dolittle.

Phew. Okay, some of the supplemental material in this set is pure studio fluff, while others are of decent quality. To say the least, just about any behind-the-scenes material possibly desired has been crammed into this edition of Night and the Museum. Anything else about this film would just be flat excessive.


Final Thoughts:

As a fan of flicks like Jumanji and Zathura, Night and the Museum is sort of a disappointment. This family flick is huge, brassy overkill that tantalizes the eyes without providing very much joy. Adults looking for a light, fun flick will want to give this a rental. However, this "little" family niche will enjoy Night at the Museum. Though the humor flickers like a dim match, the visual splendor and spectacle of it all makes it worth watching. For families, Night and the Museum comes recommended, but for the general audiences this goofy Hollywood adventure should be Rented to figure out whether the fun value of this quirky pseudo-adventure works.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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