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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM – Alan Silvestri

December 22, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

The good thing about the arrival of “Night at the Museum” is that we won’t have to watch that trailer again. The ad campaign for the film has been overwhelming, everywhere you turn the past few months, a blurb for the movie seems to be popping up. In case you have been living in an igloo and missed the trailer, “Night at the Museum” is a special effects-driven comedy with a cast of comedy notables. That the end result is completely uninspiring can be explained by taking a looking at the “Directed by” and “Produced by” credits.

Director Shawn Levy is the man who gave us the remakes of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther”, both of which demonstrated his sheer ineptitude when it comes to comic timing and skillful direction. Also note the fact that the film was co-produced by producer/writer/director Chris Columbus, perhaps the ultimate example of successful mediocrity (his credits include the “Home Alone” movies, “Stepmom”, “Bicentennial Man”, “Nine Months” and the horrible movie version of “Rent”). These two join forces to create a film that’s just a little worse than what either of them have ever done individually.

The movie stars Ben Stiller in his 4,576th role as a man who has to endure all kinds of humiliating situations. He is divorced, and is trying to be a good father to his son, but his job instability is causing his ex-wife concern. She tells him to find a decent job and stick with it. A position is open at New York’s Natural History Museum, and Stiller takes it. It would seem like a rather easy task, but no… the museum comes to life at night. The stuffed animals, wax figures, historical miniatures, and other assorted things start running around, causing chaos.

There’s potential in the premise, but the movie doesn’t seem interested in making a clever family film. It’s aiming squarely for the lowest common denominator, expecting absolutely nothing from its audience. “What do you mean when you say it’s aiming for the lowest common denominator?” Well, here’s an idea. A monkey slaps Ben Stiller. A monkey bites Ben Stiller. A monkey pees on Ben Stiller. A monkey steals Ben Stiller’s keys, leading to a chase in which everything breakable is knocked over (I hate these scenes in movies, I’m always wondering who has to clean it up).

Okay, so the whole movie isn’t about Ben Stiller and that stupid monkey, but there’s an awful lot of it. The rest of the movie involves unfunny roles for other comic actors. Owen Wilson is a miniature cowboy (“Say hello to yer little friend!”) and Steve Coogan is a miniature Roman centurion. Robin Williams plays full-sized Teddy Roosevelt admirably, but spends most of his time lusting after Sacagawea through a pair of binoculars. Cinema veterans Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs play three old stooges. Carla Gugino has a pointless role as a historical researcher. Charlie Murphy shows up for ten seconds to make a “doo-doo” joke. Most of these people are talented, but they have very little to do except for throw things, break things, run around, and fall down. Some people may find this funny (most of the six-year olds in the audience I was with were giggling), but 102 minutes of it is nearly unbearable.

The movie’s only (and I mean ONLY) funny bits come from the excellent Ricky Gervais as the flustered director of the museum, Dr. McPhee. Oh, and there’s a wonderful scene where Mickey Rooney beats the crap out of Ben Stiller while calling him a hot dog. I never thought I would live to see the day that would happen, but I’m glad I did.

Special effects are typically professional, but nothing extraordinary. The plot contains a lot of particularly irritating cheats… just when the movie backs itself into an impossible situation (such as all the museum’s “residents” running loose in New York City), the movie comes up with some outlandish way to make sure everything is fixed in a neat and tidy package. It seems like rather lazy writing. And the ending… why, oh why, oh why does every other comedy these days end with all the characters dancing to a pop song? On rare occasions, it works, but most of the time, it feels like a very cheap attempt to leave the audience with the impression that the movie was grand fun, and a way to avoid having to write a closing scene.

The less-busy-than-usual Alan Silvestri provides the musical score for the film, and while his effort is satisfactory, it’s a little bit disappointing. Considering the many different historical aspects of the museum, a composer could have had a ball with this movie, running from the Wild West to the Roman Empire to the Civil War to Ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, Silvestri seems to have been directed to provide more standard action music for the proceedings. The score divides between two major sections… mystery would be the first, with ooh-ahh choirs, chimes, and suspenseful/wondrous motifs serving as accompaniment to the scenes of discovery and awe. The second section, of course, is action, with Silvestri borrowing some familiar notes from other scores he’s written. I suppose it sounds most like “The Mummy Returns”, but it never really lasts long enough or becomes intense enough to match that score’s excitement level. There’s also a little prancing theme that seems to represent New York City itself. I’m sure fans of Silvestri’s music will enjoy the score, it’s fun music, but not quite up to his usual standard for this sort of thing. This may be because Silvestri was brought on as a replacement for John Ottman, I’m not sure how much time he had to write the score.

“Night at the Museum” is a frustrating movie… why are hundreds of millions wasted on crap like this, while people who make truly interesting stories about truly interesting people are often given barely enough to get by? The film is so very lazy, doing only as much as it has to in order to make a profit at the box office. It has cast a bunch of stars, come up with an easy-sell concept, put together a massive ad campaign, and provided the requisite amount of pointless chases, explosions, and CGI. The young kids will find it funny because it operates on such a low level, which will make their parents happy. But with family films as wonderful for all ages as “Cars” and “Lassie” being released this year, “Night at the Museum” is exposed for what it is… garbage wrapped in a pretty package. Funny how a movie about things coming to life can be so dead.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Night at the Museum (2:35)
  • One of Those Days (0:49)
  • An Ordinary Guy? (1:27)
  • Tour of the Museum (2:35)
  • Civil War Soldiers (4:08)
  • Out of Africa (1:07)
  • Meet Dexter (1:27)
  • Mayan Warriors (0:57)
  • Where’s Rexy? (0:48)
  • West from Africa (1:49)
  • The Iron Horse (1:06)
  • Saved by Teddy (1:57)
  • Tablet of Akmenrah (0:37)
  • Tracking, Dear Boy (1:08)
  • Some Men Are Born Great (0:50)
  • Sunrise (0:42)
  • Study Up on History (2:15)
  • Teddy Likes Sacagawea (1:53)
  • Tearing Limbs (1:45)
  • Caveman on Fire (0:43)
  • Outrun the Sun (0:58)
  • Show You What I Do (2:55)
  • Tablet’s Gone (2:45)
  • Theodore Roosevelt At Your Service (1:11)
  • This Is Your Moment (2:10)
  • Rally the Troops (1:07)
  • Tree Take Down (1:21)
  • Cecil’s Escape (1:26)
  • Stage Coach (2:28)
  • Teddy In Two (1:18)
  • Cab Ride (0:50)
  • Big Fan (1:03)
  • Heroes Return (0:54)
  • A Great Man (0:57)
  • Full House (1:21)

Running Time: 53 minutes 22 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6778 (2006)

Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, David Slonaker and John Ashton Thomas. Edited by Terry Wilson. Score produced by Alan Silvestri and David Bifano.

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