Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (US - BD RA)
Gabe marvels at Amy Adams in those tight riding pants. There's a movie too
Two years after his first adventure as a night watchman Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) returns to the Smithsonian as the successful founder of Daley Devices. The now rich Daley discovers that his magical friends are about to be replaced by interactive holograms, and while in storage they won’t be able to come back to life anymore. To make matters worse evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) has discovered the power of his brother’s magical tablet, and wants it for his own. Kahmunrah cannot use the tablet to open the door to the underworld without the proper code, and orders Larry to help him. With the help of an animated wax Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) Larry must find the code and a way to beat Kahmunrah and his minions, before his friend Jedediah (Owen Wilson) drowns in the Pharaoh’s hourglass.
Based on the pieces of Night at the Museum I caught on television over the last couple of years I think I can safely say that Battle of the Smithsonian falls under the ‘more of the same, just bigger’ category of movie sequels. I’m struggling to think of a situation where this approach worked for a sequel outside of the slasher genre. Perhaps there are character development intricacies non-fans would miss. Something must have worked, because both films were theatrical hits. I’m not sure why audiences flocked to either installment. The cast is surely impressive, but I find it hard to believe any of them sell a movie like this. Is it the Chris Columbus tone? Do audiences still like that stuff? Are we still into divorced parent guilt-trips, and morals about capitalistic success? Or is it the special effects? Historically speaking effects-heavy comedies are largely monetarily unsuccessful these days, so if it is the effects I’m impressed by the reception. Apparently Night at the Museum was a perfect storm of elements, and this sequel rode some pretty large coattails.
The ‘only bigger’ part leads this new film into realms of action and humour, and had the films been released about two decades ago (an era it would’ve fit more snuggly into, as far as I’m concerned) I’m sure this would lead to a popular Saturday morning cartoon series. Actually, that’s probably were the concept belongs. It’d make a great piece of weekly edu-tainment for kids. I’m assuming that these films drum up interest in the museums, but they aren’t particularly educational, and the jokes made at the expense of the historical figures are so broad I’m pretty sure the wee viewers aren’t learning a whole lot. But that’s all there is to offer in terms of a sequel, cosmetic additions, and more ‘stuff’. There’s no real narrative or character drive behind the script beyond the broadest moral issues. The comedy can grow a bit grating, but works pretty well when the actors are let loose to bounce off each other in an improvisational manner. The plot, as it were, acts mostly as glue between these sketch-like vignettes, which mostly amuse thanks to the efforts of the inarguably talented cast, which this time around is aided incredibly by the largely effortless Amy Adams, and a sleepwalking Hank Azaria.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian might not be a very good film, but it’s new, and expensive, so it looks good in 1080p high definition. The film is colourful, stirred heavily with digital effects, and the concept leads to many intricate details. The DVD copy that comes with the disc (and a Digital Copy) is nearly as colourful when up-converted, but the detail levels don’t compare at all, and the DVD’s attempts at sharpening leads to all kinds of edge-enhancement. On Blu-ray fans can enjoy all kinds of garment threads and trinkets. The micro scaled stuff is especially sharp, like the sand that buries Owen Wilson, and the grass that Steve Coogan attempts to surmount. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows; there is a constant and consistent fine grain over the whole transfer, which dances with enough intent to draw attention. The really colourful middle and background elements bleed a hair, and feature some slight enhancement. When not being slightly affected by the constant grain the transfers colours are full bodied, and exhibit very little digital noise. The reds are especially bright and pure, while the blues and yellows pop well against each other.
Battle of the Smithsonian features a varied cornucopia of sound effects, from the epic and loud, to the subtle and small, and they sound pretty fantastic in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Things are always busy, but there are definitely stand-out moments, such as the Museum of Art sequences, many of which wouldn’t work without the effects, specifically the Thinker, which would appear cartoony, doughy and weightless without the added creak of old metal. The Air and Space Museum scene will rock your system the most aggressively, specifically when all the jets, rockets, and planes turn on and rev up. The climatic battle is probably the busiest aural sequence, and features the largest variety of elements. The dialogue track is clean and centered, featuring some minor background noise inconsistencies here and there when the music is cut in favour of a long winded improv gag. Abe Lincoln’s voice is especially loud throughout all three front channels without any distortion. Alan Silvestri’s score is big and brassy on the track, running the musical gamut from quirky, cartoony bits, to full bore action cues, brimming with big drums and moaning choruses. The score is used to dynamically comedic effect throughout the film when it comes to the ongoing joke of some of the characters’ minute scale.
The extras start with two commentary tracks. The first track features director/producer Shawn Levy solo. Levy runs things down more from a producer’s standpoint, focusing on what went in to making the film a ‘worthwhile’ sequel. He’s plenty cordial and informative, but he also sounds like he’s selling us the film, rather than dealing with the usual director’s concerns. The second features writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. The writers, who are most well known for their work as writers and stars of Reno 911!, are reasonably focused, and probably not as funny as their fans may be anticipating. In fact, they’re strangely intent in talking about technical aspects of filmmaking. The disc also comes fitted with a ‘Scavenger Hunt Mode’, which features an easy and hard option. The viewer is expected to press the corresponding coloured button on their remote when certain items appear. A branching or pop-up historical factoid track would’ve served the disc better (that’s right, I’m still harping on the lack of educational content).
‘The Curators of Comedy’ (27:50, HD) is your basic making-of featurette, which creeps just beyond the usual confines of an EPK. Cast and crew interviews are set to behind the scenes footage, and choice bits from the film. Everyone lies, and pretends they’re making something special, rather than something for the pay check. Come on Azaria, it was for the paycheque, admit it. The size of the sets is genuinely awe-inspiring. ‘Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words’ (06:30, HD) is a brief piece in which the actors say something in character about their historical relevance. ‘Directing 201’ (19:20, HD) follows director/producer Levy for a day, and introduces us to all his co-workers. Levy appears a very efficient worker. ‘Museum Magic’ (05:40, HD) is a quick look at the production behind the scene where Stiller and Adams enter the famous VJ Day photograph. ‘Secret Doors and Scientists’ (16:00, HD) is a genuine look at the real Smithsonian. Frankly the disc could use more of this.
The featurettes get shorter and sillier, starting with ‘Caveman Conversations’ (04:20, HD) is an obnoxious bit of grunting from the actors playing the Neanderthals. ‘Phinding Pharaoh’ (04:50, HD) briefly looks at Hank Azaria’s camera tests, which crafted the character into something a little less common. This is followed by three ‘Show Me the Monkey’ featurettes, ‘Monkey Business’ (05:00, HD), ‘Primate Prima Donnas’ (06:30, HD) and ‘The Secret Life of a Monkey Star’ (06:30, HD). ‘The Jonas Brothers in Cherub Bootcamp’ (03:50, HD) is a joke featurette where Levy tortures the popular musicians with direction. ‘Gangster Levy’ (02:00, HD) is a bit of footage that plays in the background of the film, staring the director and first AD. The disc also houses twelve deleted/extended scenes with optional director’s commentary (26:40, HD), including an alternate ending, a blooper reel (08:10, HD), a Fox Movie Channel ‘Making a Scene’ featurette (09:30, SD), and ‘World Premiere’ (05:30, SD), along with a series of Fox trailers.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian sneaks by badness thanks to a really great cast, but it’s really just a revamp of the original film. It’s about as thematically impressive a sequel as Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. People that liked the original and wanted more of the same will be happy (I’m not one to judge, I own all the Friday the 13th sequels). The Blu-ray disc sounds perfect, and minor, nit-picking quibbles aren’t enough to really complain about the 1080p video quality either (at the very least one can see Adams in those wonderful riding pants). The extras could use a bit more educational material for the kids, but are among the better EPK pieces you’re likely to sit through.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 1st December 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French and Portuguese
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Catonese, Mandarin, Portuguese
Extras: Director Commentary, Writers Commentary, Scavenger Hunt Game, Curators of Comedy, Phinding Pharoah, Cherub Bootcamp, Historical Confessions, Museum Magic, Caveman Conversations, Monkey Mischief, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Bloopers, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest
Genre: Adventure, Comedy and Family
Length: 104 minutes
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