Blu-Ray Review: Night at the Museum-Battle of the Smithsonian

While the first Night at the Museum was an enjoyable enough piece of escapism, I never felt the need for a sequel.  I loved the setup, and yet by film’s end was pretty much ready to move on.  Everybody had learned a valuable lesson, as per tradition in these type of films, and I didn’t really think there was a lot left to do with the premise.  Because of this, I began watching Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, newly released on Blu-Ray, with a decided lack of excitement.  And yet I ended up loving it.

Both films revolve around Ben Stiller’s character of Larry Daley, and what happens to him over the course of a single evening in a museum where the exhibits come to life.  The first film took place at the Museum of Natural History, and as indicated in the title, the sequel takes place in the Smithsonian.  In typical sequel fashion, this means that everything is bigger, better, and with a lot more of it.

But instead of just throwing more stuff at us and seeing what sticks, the filmmakers actually manage to utilize the expanded world.  Part of what makes this work so well is the interaction between the exhibits that would serve no logical purpose being together.  By placing the action in the Smithsonian there is a great deal of variety between the exhibits, and seeing them come together in such a way is a great deal of fun.

Being able to actually enter the paintings and interact with the sculptures brings a whole new level to this museum.  And when Daley takes a chase sequence into a classic WWII photograph, everything about this movie begins to click.  The creativity on display is way beyond anything in the first film.  Helping fuel this creativity is an amazing cast of new actors including Hank Azaria, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, and on and on.

Everybody from the first film returns as well, but the absolute highlight is one of the new additions.  Amy Adams is brilliant in the role of Amelia Earhart (or at least a wax replica of her).  Playing a caricatured version of Earhart, Adams fast-talks her way through every scene leaving Stiller’s character desperate to keep up.  When he tells her that one of her exclamations sounds made up even for her, she replies “it’s how I speak.”  She then gives a normal line of dialogue as comparison and questions “where’s the fun in that?”

That brief exchange encapsulates everything that works about this film.  Everybody seems to be having fun.  There is not one weak link in the cast and everybody gets a moment to shine.  On top of this, the special effects are a blast to watch.  There is nothing revolutionary about them, but they are perfect for this type of film.  By manipulating real art and exhibits we are all familiar with and putting them in the context of this story, the effects begin to actually feel special.

There are several features on the Blu-Ray that showcase these effects, as well as demonstrating the genuine excitement the cast and crew seem to have for the material.  Not all of the extra features are winners, but there are some surprisingly interesting segments demonstrating what goes into creating a film of this scope.  Director Shawn Levy’s enthusiasm frequently comes through in these segments as he demonstrates how they filmed the WWII sequence, the Air and Space sequence, etc.  One of the best features on the set is a segment that follows Levy around for an entire day of filming.  I love watching filmmakers at work, and this feature provides a great insight into the several aspects of being a director. 

Unfortunately, not all of the extras are quite as interesting as this one.  There are a lot of generic behind-the-scenes features, including a couple of Fox Movie Channel segments, a gag reel that consists of everybody laughing at themselves, and three (!) features on the monkey from the film.  Overall, it’s a pretty uneven set of extras, alternating between the terrific and the bland. 

But the features that do work, as well as the film itself, make this a Blu-Ray worth purchasing.  Despite all odds, this ended up a thoroughly entertaining movie.  Unlike after the first film, I will keep an open mind when they announce the inevitable Part III, and I might find myself actually looking forward to seeing the further museum-based adventures of Larry Daley and friends.  Especially if Amelia Earhart is going with him.

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