A whimsical, energetic throwback to a style of movies long since lost, Night at the Museum is a wonderful family effort from Shawn Levy. Witty dialogue, memorable characters, and spectacular effects highlight this piece of escapist entertainment. Kids will have a blast, and adults will simply sit back and enjoy this innovative, soon-to-be Hollywood favorite.
Rapidly establishing its lead Ben Stiller playing Larry Daley, the pacing is spot on as he takes a job at the Natural History Museum to appease his ex, who feels he’s going nowhere. While this leads to a moral lesson at the end, Daley’s personal issues are sent into the background to make room for the wild adventure inside the confines of his new place of employment.
Night at the Museum avoids many of the clichés typical of many fantastical films of this nature. Daley accepts that the museum comes alive at night with little explanation. An amulet causes the attractions to fill with life and the movie continues on. While Daley second guesses his new job, he quickly adapts, and his solutions to some of the tormenting living wax creations are hilarious.
This is unusual for a modern Hollywood effort. Movies today tend to go on and on about why things are, convoluting the story and creating plot holes. Museum is fine with saying “it just is.” The suspension of disbelief is easily crafted in this manner, and helps keep the kids in their seats as the special effects take hold of their imaginations.
Employing loads of computer-generated creations, the $100 million put forth to craft them was well spent. Of special note are a set of lions that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. A wailing T-Rex skeleton is the highlight of the trailers, and deservedly so. It’s an inspired creation.
Alongside Ben Stiller is an excellent supporting cast, including Robin Williams (surprisingly under control compared to his usual antics) and Owen Wilson taking part in a hilarious rivalry with a Roman enemy. Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs are brilliant, meshing together as the previous guards Stiller’s character replaces.
Many small dialogue exchanges make the film worth watching twice to catch it all, and kids will surely wear this one out with repeated viewings. A harsh PG rating from the MPAA is on the over-protective side, with only minor scares that are eventually worked out into fun sub-plots or lively minor characters. Superb choreography (especially with the special effects mixed with live action) and tightly crafted chases are only a few of the highlights.
While Shawn Levy carries a spotty resume, his direction here led to a massive box office and deservedly so. Night at the Museum is simply a loaded film, captivating any and all audiences looking to spend an evening being thoroughly entertained. It’s impossible not to have fun here.
The DVD edition of the film was a mess video-wise. While not perfect, this Blu-ray does quite a bit to correct it. The major problem here is black crush. While the blacks establish a fantastic level of rich depth, shadow delineation is poor.
The bright contrast also helps, and colors are enormously bold. Texture detail is exceptional, including excellent facial definition. This MPEG-2 encode also picks up the subtle stitching on clothing. Some flickering as Stiller first notices the T-rex skeleton is missing is a minute flaw. Limited edging on high contrast edging is barely evident. The film’s grain structure is handled nicely, and light artifacting is only noted on the brightest reds.
Like the DVD, this is a fantastic audio presentation, producing an array of spectacular effects in all channels. Awesome bass shakes the viewer whenever it’s called on. Thunderous footsteps and a forceful score from Shawn Levy loads the LFE with work. The soundtrack nicely bleeds into the rears. Positional audio is always spot on. Listen during the first T-rex appearance. You can hear the water fountain in the rear left channel. Dialogue nicely fits into the heavy action, and remains audible without the need for a volume adustment. Non-action scenes are dry, though there’s not much to expect or opportunity for ambiance.
Fox has chosen not to port over many of the extras from the two-disc DVD. Instead, two commentaries are included along with a trivia track. That’s it. Shawn Levy controls the first commentary, always speaking on a technical and personal level. Writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon handle the second. They have a little more fun along with providing solid information. A Blu-ray exclusive trivia track is non-imposing as you watch the film, and color coded to let you know what the factoid is referring to (production, history, etc.).