DVD Review: Night at the Museum

20th Century Fox
Movie ••½ Picture •••• Sound ••• Extras ••••
If you're one of those viewers who feel that many extras a better DVD doth make, then you'll be pleased with the two-disc set of Night at the Museum. On Disc 1, you'll find the film and two commentaries, one by director Shawn Levy, the other by screenwriters Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (of Reno 911!). Both are pleasant enough and somewhat informative, though a lot of time is squandered on mutual admiration.

Disc 2's menu looks innocent enough, with only a quartet of headings, but each one of these leads to a large number of subdivisions. "Loading Dock" contains deleted and extended scenes, which may be viewed with or without director commentary. They're a mixed bag: Some deserve to be jettisoned, while others, like Lewis and Clark's questioning of a bus driver about the Northwest Passage, can be quite amusing.

"The Hall of Biodiversity" contains a Directing 101 class in which the always enthusiastic Levy is shown teaching his cast how to play their roles by acting all the characters first himself. Also included in this section are an entertaining featurette on the special effects used to bring the museum to life, and another on the monkey used in the movie. A very funny blooper reel trumps the throwaway episode of Comedy Central: Reel Comedy that's devoted to the movie.

"The Security Office" has two more featurettes, one on the set construction and the other on the costumes. The latter relates the rather telling fact that the costumes were accurate to our fantasies about certain historical characters, rather than attempting to be true to history. There's also an excellent storyboard-to-film comparison with an introduction by the director.

"Stage Coach" includes a featurette on the production and two promotional items made by Fox Movie Channel, while "Rexy" directs PC computer owners to a DVD-ROM game.

Most of these extras are well executed and worth a play. Unfortunately, the movie itself is derives from a rather limited concept - what would happen if, after the lights go out, the exhibits in New York City's Museum of Natural History come to life? - with predictable variations. It's fun for a while, but becomes tiresome somewhere in the second half hour. The DVD transfer, though, is admirable, rich in color and detail. Before the story moves to the museum, there's a winter scene in Central Park where all the branches of the leafless trees stand out sharp as a tack. And the museum interiors look just as good.

As much as the picture impressed me, the sound was a big disappointment. It's largely up front, with the surround channels kept mostly silent except for music and ambient sounds - unusual for contemporary big special-effects movies. Its compressed frequency and dynamic range make everything seem to play at about the same levels. Rarely did my subwoofer snap to attention and deliver any bass. So when the dinosaur skeleton goes running through the museum, there ain't much Jurassic. [R] English, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1; French and Spanish, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (1.78:1) and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer discs.

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