Night At The Museum is the last film I saw on 2006, not a spectacular way to end the year (it's not on my top 10 favourite 2006 films list), but not exactly a bad way (it's not on my top 10 disappointing 2006 films list) either. It's just what it is, popcorn entertainment meant for an entire family.
I went with my dad and sister (mom was missing in action. Again), expecting this to be a horrifyingly bad film, due to the hatefest it got from Ain't It Cool News (as opposed to the lovefest they were giving Sylvester Stallone and his latest Rocky flick ever since Stallone's been doing daily interviews with the site prior to his film's release), but I ended up being, well, entertained. And I guess that was fine, I entered the cinemas expecting solely to be entertained by that film, at most, not having a life-altering experience that would had me so blown away that I would go around begging people to watch the film as well (like I did with Happy Feet weeks ago).
Here's the plot summary from Wikipedia:
Good-hearted dreamer Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), despite being perpetually down on his luck, thinks he's destined for something big. But even he could never have imaged how "big," when he accepts what appears to be a menial job as a graveyard-shift security guard at a museum of natural history. During Larry's watch, extraordinary things begin to occur: Mayans, Roman Gladiators, and cowboys emerge from their diorama to wage epic battles; in his quest for fire, a Neanderthal burns down his own display; Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) pillages his neighboring exhibits, and a T-Rex reminds everyone why he's history's fiercest predator. Amidst the chaos, the only person Larry can turn to for advice is a wax figure of President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), who helps our hero harness the bedlam, stop a nefarious plot, and save the museum.That's just a gist of it, there are more, like Larry being a single father struggling not to disappoint his son anymore after his divorce, and then there's also Theodore Roosevelt having a crush on Sacagawea, who cannot communicate with anyone because she's behind a soundproof glass. There are also three funny old guards (predecessors of Larry) played by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs, and Ricky Gervais ('The Office') as the museum director who talks funny in his upperclass Brit accent. There's also Carla Gugino as Rebecca Hutman, Larry's friendly co-worker who is supposed to be a romantic interest of sorts, except there's really not much romance between her and Larry.
And here lies the biggest flaw of the film, the relationships between Larry and the other characters (not those that come alive in the museum, the actual humans) are really underdeveloped and superficial, to the point where the film wouldn't have felt much different if the whole father-son thing was removed, along with Carla Gugino's character. Everything felt manufactured, as if putting these things were obligatory, allowing us to understand more about Larry's desperation and his attempt to redeem himself in his son's eyes, unfortunately, there really wasn't much depth between Larry and his son (except for some generic scenes of father consoling disappointed son, or son being disappointed with his dad, and son learning to stop being disappointed with his dad).
And also, maybe it seems like a necessity to have a love interest of sorts in a big-budget family blockbuster flick, but the Rebecca Hutman character seemed to exist solely to ah, obsess over Sacagawea (she's writing a dissertation of her, Larry tries to convince her that Sacagawea does come alive in the museum at night, that's it). If the film is trying so hard to push a romantic angle, might as well try to develop Rebecca more, or maybe shift focus to Larry attempting to reconcile with of his ex-wife again. Ricky Gervais, as the museum director (the nasty boss), was kinda funny at first, but he grew stale after, well, his first role.
Now, to the positive points of the film, which had more to do with personal tastes than the film's actual merits. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about non-living things like toys and stuff, coming alive whenever all humans aren't watching, having their own kinds of lives, I have also fantasized about time-traveling and meeting historical figures, being a history fan myself (I'm the kind of person who would spend hours sifting through Wikipedia, looking through the lives of these historical figures, like members of the British Royal Family, like the rulers in the past, or US presidents of late 19th century to early 20th century, and I even spent half a day reading about half of the Roman Empire history while doing a research for Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra back in 2005 for my literature minor).
So, as a fantasy film, this film worked because it tapped into my own fantasies. It also has this positive message about contemporary society's increasing indifference towards history and museums. For a person like me, hearing Sacagawea for the first time in the movie made me run a search on her on Wikipedia (I thought at first that she would be related to, ah, Pocahontas). On the other hand, I've already read about the others like Octavius and Teddy Roosevelt (whose life was so dramatic and interesting that I wasn't surprised it's going to be Martin Scorsese's next film, and it's going to star Leonardo DiCaprio again) long ago. And there's Attila The Hun, who had one of the stupidest deaths in known history.
It makes me wonder whether the current box-office success of this film would increase people's interest in history and, ah, improve attendances of museums.
Other than that, no, this film's nothing special, your life won't be any different whether you've seen it or not, but for me, it was entertaining but nothing more than that. The concept is good, but the execution isn't, yet it's saved by visuals and likable (yes, despite being underdeveloped) characters.
Video of discussion between Larry, Teddy Roosevelt and Dexter the monkey
Lim Chang Moh gave it 3 out of 4 stars
Erik Davis of Cinematical says that the film created a special something that's been missing from recent family films... lots and lots of imagination. I wholeheartedly agree.