Suggestion for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Hire real script writers.

May 25, 2009 | By | 10 Replies More

My family doesn’t go to many movies at theaters. In our experience, modern movie theater audiences tend to be far too talkative during the shows and prices are not cheap.  Netflix is the default option for my family.

I made an exception for Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).   On Friday, I had heard an director interviewed on NPR. She indicated that the producers had to work hard to earn the trust of those who run the various Smithsonian Museums, the setting for the movie. Plus the movie featured Robin Williams and other notable actors.

Thus, I gathered up my willing daughters (aged 8 and 10) and assumed that even though this was a movie geared for kids, there was a decent chance that it would have some take-home value.   I was sorely disappointed.  The problem is that this movie, despite the almost-constant high-quality special effects, had no meaningful plot and no meaningful resolution, even for someone willing spend disbelief for the duration.   I was already dissatisfied with the movie while the credits ran, but now that I have had further chance to consider the work both as a parent and a member of the audience, I’d have to say that I’m all the more disappointed.

Those special effects constituted eye-popping pyrotechnics, but it’s an old story for so many American movies: the producers forgot to hire a real script writer.  Thus, the movie was merely one damned thing after another, with Ben Stiller and company dashing here and there, in a wacky and barely-connected series of scenes that continually threatening to break out into needless violence.  What especially aggravated me is that the attention-deficit afflicted characters made almost no effort to think things through, quite a feat for 105 minutes.  There was no sustained effort at problem solving, but only a constant need to drop buckets of wise-cracks and put-downs and to keep on the movie moving–to keep doing something, anything.   This movie exemplifies one of the most prominent social illusions:  that movement is necessarily progress.

Here’s my bottom line: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian presents a collection of paper-thin characters running amok, somehow not getting each other killed.  Most notable is the prominent appearance of the character of heroic aviator Amelia Earhart (played by the fetching Amy Adams), who was quickly reduced to a woman who became all-too-willing to take orders from a numbskull (“Larry,” played by Stiller) while maintaining her schoolgirl crush on him for most of the movie’s 105 minutes.

This movie must have cost many tens of millions of dollars to produce.   Whatever it cost, the producers of  Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian could have spent a pittance more ($50,000??) to hire a real writer so that all of those special effects could have told some sort of story. Sheesh.  [Hint: there are many good writers looking for work.] It was like the producers were concocting the scenes even as they were shooting them, even though this couldn’t have been true, since big teams of computer artists had to be finessing in those dozens of special effects.  What an embarrassment it must be for them to see their first-rate special effects put to such piss-poor use.

This is one in a long line of big-production American movie sorely lacking a real script.   I truly don’t understand why so many big studios aim so incredibly low while churning out so many movies.  20th Century Fox certainly had the potential to produce a classic children’s movie here, but they said “No thanks.  We’ll just make a pile of money in the short term, then we’ll be on our way.”   No need to aim so high as to make a quality movie that people would be itching to see again next year and the year after.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was pure shlock that teaches its young audience that it’s OK to have no plan, and it’s OK to act out rather than using one’s brain.  And it’s OK to constantly distract rather than to teach any moral lesson, other than one extremely low moral bar Larry trips over at movie’s end.    And I won’t spoil the plot, but I must say that Larry will not go down in history as the kind of guy capable of even a minimal amount of loyalty or imagination.   What a lesson to send home with one’s children. . . .

I’d rate this movie as one star out of five.  Go see it ONLY if you are a student of special effects and if you don’t give a damn about good story-telling.

Image from the Air and Space Museum by Erich Vieth

Image from the Air and Space Museum by Erich Vieth

Epilogue:  If you want to see something equally sad, check out the reviewers’ ratings at Rotten Tomato.  You’ll see that 43% of the reviews thought that this movie was worth seeing.    But talk about low bars.  Look how the reviewers struggle with reasons to see this film.   You won’t find the word “quality” in the positive reviews.  This is a common phenomenon too:  reviewers giving net positive ratings to terrible movies.   Of course, if they gave their honest opinions as a general rule, people would stop going to movies and they’d be out of jobs.  And one more note to the naive reviewers:  Don’t kid yourselves that the movie offers children a significant amount of redeeming social value.  This movie will not make kids think that real museums are cool.    After watching Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, most kids will be yammering to go play their video games–going to a real museum will be the furthest thing from their minds.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Entertainment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Yo, Vieth! You told me I couldn't write movie reviews or do sports on this blog (remember I did those for high school and college newspapers?).

    I'm sorely disappointed that you could pan any movie with the fairest Amy Adams in it! Recently Ms. Adams was wonderful in "Sunshine Cleaning." I also rejoiced in her performances with Frances Dormand in "Miss Pettigrew", and my first sight of her in "Enchanted." Go rent "Enchanted," or I'll lend it to you (a Disney musical ala Snow White-scary dragon and all!). The others aren't for the kids.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tim: I didn't like this film on the whole, but I will dream of Amy Adams tonight, which you will apparently be doing too.

      No prohibition about movie reviews here. Must be a misunderstanding.

  2. Dennis N says:

    How did you feel about the first film?

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I haven't seen the sequel, but I did see the original. It was a hodgepodge of silly action scenes where the historical figures were more or less absurd stereotypes of what they represented. It did have a very poorly developed and contrived theme concerning the importance of teamwork. "Short Attention Span Theater" for kids.

    It's what you get when the story is written to support the special effects.

  4. Mindy Carney says:

    I will concur with Erich, having seen the movie yesterday as well – as a matter of fact, in the seat next to him, behind our kids. The kids liked it. We did our best to ruin it for them by analyzing it on the way home. I am usually a fairly easy-to-please movie viewer, because I am an expert at suspending disbelief. But this one asked too much. Sad, because the special effects really are outstanding – seamless, impossible to tell what was animatronic, what was computer animation and what was live action. The concept of the air and space museum coming to life and all the vessels potentially blasting off was a fun premise to consider – but an actual STORY would have made it sooo much better. Quite a shame, truly.

  5. Ron says:

    Extremely boring and not at all living up to its name.

  6. Ben says:

    Well, I saw the new Star Trek on Sunday.

    For any fan of Star Trek it is a must-see.

    It had a lot of promise, and almost lived up to the hype.

    It deserves high ratings for special effects, action, and excitement. In the minus column: lack of character development, unnecessary cutesy/silly parts, and a confusing-yet-somehow-oddly-familiar plot. Also, the Leonard Nimoy cameo is a drag, would have preferred Shatner or Takei. The movies was about 20 minutes too long.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Sounds like Pixar's new high-tech movie, "Up," has the same problem. See this review from Salon.com:

    "Up" is unapologetically life-affirming, for those who like to have life affirmed. And from a technical standpoint it certainly is beautifully executed. But save for a few inspired canine gags and a handful of very pretty visual details, "Up" left me cold. Its charms appear to have been applied with surgical precision; by the end, I felt expertly sutured, but not much else.

    http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2009/05/29

  8. Mindy Carney says:

    I just heard a very different review of "Up," in which the reviewer called it arguably Pixar's best. The story pulled him in, he appreciated the adventure incorporated into it, and loved the way it treated old people, because the nearly-80-yr.-old man is not a Clint Eastwood-type elder, more fit than any normal person his age, but a curmudgeon with a walker who becomes the hero in spite of all that.

    I'm all about life-affirming. I'll probably love it.

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