Fox // 2009 // 105 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 14th, 2009
When the lights go off the battle is on...
In the summer of 2009, my family and I took a mini-vacation to Washington D.C. to take in the sights and a bit of history. After a day of seeing most of the monuments and the White House, we decided to rest our feet and spend an evening in the hotel room. Because our little one had loved the first Night at the Museum and we were planning a trip to some of the Smithsonian museums the next day, we decided to order Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in the hotel room while we rested. This was my first experience using in-room movie viewing, and it was a disaster. There were random lines of noise in the picture, audio would go in and out of sync, and even after a technician came to our room they couldn't fix the problems.
I mention all this because we soldiered on through the movie and despite the technical difficulties, I actually enjoyed Battle of the Smithsonian about as much as the first, surprisingly entertaining film.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller, reprising his role from the first film) has parleyed his experiences as night guard at the Museum of Natural History into his own company, Daley Devices. His dreams of inventing have been realized, but it's left him little time to visit his friends at the museum. So during a routine visit he's surprised to find out that most of them are being shipped to the Federal Archives at the Smithsonian, and without the tablet that gives them life. Larry does everything he can to prevent his friends' transfer, but they still end up in the archives. Then, Larry gets a call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson): the cheeky capuchin has stolen the tablet, bringing to life the largest museum in the world, and Larry's friends are being held captive by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria, Run Fatboy Run ) who wants the tablet for his own nefarious plots.
Night at the Museum was a successful, family oriented movie so a sequel was inevitable. Following the typical Hollywood line of thinking, any sequel had to combine the same basic plot (someone wants to steal the tablet) with newer, bigger set-pieces. Sure, it's not terribly surprising, but Battle for the Smithsonian makes all the right decisions with the formula.
First, the setting. The Museum of Natural History is fairly iconic, but you can't beat the Smithsonian and the surrounding Washington D.C. area for strong visual and story components. The first film tended to stick with the historical exhibits like Roosevelt and the T. Rex, but the Smithsonian gives the filmmakers access to more history, art, and popular culture. The film is simply stuffed to the brim with a whole host of new objects and people to bring to life, and the enthusiasm the film has for history and culture is infectious.
Second, the new blood. The film needed a villain, and the filmmakers turned to the always-reliable Hank Azaria to assay the role of Kahmunrah. Although his lisp has been singled out as a poor choice by many critics, his timing and screen presence make his character an interesting addition to the Museum cast. There also needed to be a love interest, and Amy Adams came on as Amelia Earhart. Her character isn't given as much to do as I'd like, but she brings a brassy confidence to the role that's fun to watch.
Finally, the plot. The filmmakers keep it pretty simple, moving everything along to one giant climax that allows them to incorporate a number of spectacular effects. However, even with the film's quick pace towards the climax there are still a few moments where Larry gets to explore everything the museums have to offer, and these are as charming as his initial forays were in the first film.
The folks at Fox have gone above and beyond with this Blu-ray set. The picture and sound are every bit as strong as any recent film of this budget could be. Detail in the transfer is high, blacks are solid, and there are no compression or authoring artifacts to speak of. The audio has occasion to boom a bit and the DTS-HD track keeps dynamics appropriate and the dialogue audible.
When discussing the extras, I first want to give kudos to Fox for releasing the Blu-ray with both a DVD and a digital copy in a single package. I'm sure the DVD will get some serious views on the portable DVD player. That aside, extras are extensive. There's a "Scavenger Hunt" mode that puts icons of different objects on the screen and asks you to press the corresponding button when that object shows up. I don't see it getting a lot of use, but it's cute. Then there are two different audio commentaries. One features the director talking generally about the film's genesis and production, while the other features the film's writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. This pair are a comedy team at heart and approach the film much more lightheartedly. Then, there are the featurettes, which seem to go on forever. We get insights into everything from Kahmunrah's accent to a peek at some of the actual exhibits at the Smithsonian museums. Not to mention the "Monkey Business," where everyone's favorite capuchin gets to strut her stuff. These are all generally fun, and informative. There are also almost 30 minutes of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, and an 80-minute gag reel.
If I have one complaint about Battle of the Smithsonian, it's that the film feels too rushed. The first film had a pretty slow pace as Larry settled into his job and explored the museum. This flick is pretty much pedal to the floor from the moment we find out Larry's friends are being shipped out. This doesn't allow as much time for the wonder of the museum coming to life to sink in, and the numerous new exhibits in the archives don't get the kind of individual attention that the first film gave to its characters.
Battle of the Smithsonian unashamedly aims for the bleachers. Those seeking high-class comedy need to look elsewhere. A major set-piece involves Ben Stiller getting slapped by a monkey. This is not Shakespeare, folks.
Also, I could find no Einstein bobble-heads in the Air and Space Museum. They had dolls, but no bobble-heads. I feel cheated.
This is one of those cases where the sequel manages to live up to the promise of the first film. Fans of Night at the Museum are almost certain to find something to love about Battle of the Smithsonian, and the solid Blu-ray presentation makes this an easy disc to recommend.
Larry Daley and company are not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy