Starring: Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Robin Williams
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen enhanced for 16:9, 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS 5.1 Master Lossless, Spanish Dolby 5.1, French Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Captioned
Extras: Commentary by Director Shawn Levy, Commentary by writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Trivia track, Theatrical trailer in HD
Length: 110 min.
I was hoping this wasn’t a typical Ben Stiller movie just as I had hoped Stranger Than Fiction wasn’t a typical Will Ferrell movie. I was wrong this time, but Night at the Museum is still a delightful family film which supports some positive Disneyesque concerns and may even jump-start some youngsters into an interest in history. Stiller plays his usual goodhearted looser type – in this case divorced with a small son and unsuccessful at employment. Threatened by his ex with not seeing his son due to not having a steady job, he takes the only one offered him by a job placement woman (who happens to be played by Stiller’s real mother) – night guard at a Museum of Natural History.
The museum has lost visitors and funding and to cut expenses is replacing a trio of longtime guards – including Rooney and Van Dyke – with one outsider-contracted guard. Namely, Stiller. They fail to tell him that when the sun goes down the museum’s displays all come to life. The catalyst is an ancient Egyptian gold plate of some sort which causes the chaos-creating transformation. By sunup everything is returned to normal, but if any of the creatures escape from the museum they will turn to dust at sunrise.
Stiller’s guard is kept busy handling the lions, monkeys, zebras, elephants, ancient Romans, Egyptian gods, cowboys, Huns and other large and tiny exhibits that go wild when it gets dark. His scene with the dinosaur bone display – who just wants to play fetch – is a highlight. He gets help in his dealings with the nightly craziness from the Teddy Roosevelt display (Robin Williams doing a great job as a wax Teddy). Some of the bits are over-the-top typical Stiller comedy, such as the pseudo-pop-psychology trip he does on Attila the Hun, and the monkey-slapping routine, but I think intelligent adults will enjoy most of this film as much as their offspring.
The transfer looks great; the many details – such as in the dioramas of tiny model people – showing up clearly. This is a very creative use of advanced cgi. The lossless sound track also adds to the realism of the sonic chaos visited upon the museum at night. The commentary track by the two writers is a sensible inclusion since the plot twists on the seemingly one-note story of the museum coming alive at night are so ingenious. The film is a wonderful fantasy for young and old.
– John Sunier