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Night at the Museum: Special Edition

For a family fantasy that relies completely on the audience's suspension of disbelief to function, Night at the Museum (2006) is curiously lacking in magic. It's definitely entertaining — it's hard not to enjoy watching Ben Stiller face off against a mad menagerie of living exhibits — but the storyline surrounding the museum antics often feels forced and hurried, as if the filmmakers were so caught up in the fun of bringing a giant T-rex skeleton to life that they let the storytelling slide. Suffice it to say that Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a serial "big idea" guy whose lack of a steady paycheck is putting his relationship with his son, Nick (Jake Cherry), in jeopardy. In desperation, Larry takes what he's sure will be a routine, deadly dull job — night watchman at Manhattan's Museum of Natural History. Turns out being bored is the least of Larry's problems: Thanks to a magical ancient Egyptian tablet, every creature in the museum comes to life at night, and it's up to Larry (with the occasional assistance of a wax Teddy Roosevelt, played with gusto by Robin Williams) to keep them safe and contained. The film's clunkiness kicks in when the audience discovers that the museum inhabitants aren't the only ones with an interest in the tablet; what follows is a frantic, muddled race against time with a foregone conclusion that even kids will see coming a mile away (not to mention a whack-you-over-the-head message about never giving up). All of that said, the movie's middle scenes — when Larry realizes what he's up against at work and does his best to mediate the endless skirmishes among the museum's inhabitants (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are particularly funny as a feuding cowboy and Roman general, respectively) — are imaginative and funny. Kids who don't care about the finer points of cinematic storytelling (in other words, most of them) will certainly enjoy the film, as will older viewers with a taste for the fantastic who can accept its shortcomings. Fox's two-disc Special Edition includes a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (Spanish and French 2.0 Surround tracks are also available, as are English and Spanish subtitles). Features on the first disc include two commentary tracks — one by enthusiastic director Shawn Levy, the other by co-writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (aka Deputy Travis Junior and Lt. Jim Dangle of TV's "Reno 911!"), who based their script on Milan Trenc's children's book. The second disc includes 17 minutes' worth of deleted and extended scenes (pretty much all of them have to do with establishing Larry as a loser, and including them would have made the movie's first act much slower); a blooper reel; monkey-related outtakes; a montage of Levy acting silly on the set; a Night at the Museum-centric episode of Comedy Central's "Reel Comedy"; occasionally repetitive featurettes about effects, costumes, sets, and general "making-of" matters; storyboard comparison sequences; two specials from the Fox Movie Channel ("Making a Scene," which breaks down the sequence in which Rexy comes to life, and "Life After Film School," which features Levy in conversation with three film students); trailers; and the DVD-ROM game "Reunite with Rexy." Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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