The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Night at the Museum - film review

Um okay I confess it has been a while since I went to see this film but it struck me how silly I had been not to write a review for the Attic! I went in the full expectation that this would be a child-friendly, perhaps sentimental Hollywood film that would represent museums in a cliched and unsophisticated manner and I cannot say that I was totally disappointed. However I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the premise of the film and even if the execution was sometimes poor I was very fond of the result.

The basic story is that a divorced dad, Ben Stiller, is floundering in life with little direction. Life is a succession of pipe dreams and hilariously unsuitable inventions for which he has gained no credit. In order to impress his son, who like any other 8 year old in Hollywood pictures is suitably precocious and embarrassed by his father, he takes on a job as a security guard at the local Natural History Museum in New York. Thinking it will be an easy job, our hero is a little unsettled when the three mischeavous old men who were former security guards leave him with a list of instructions which, in time-honoured fashion, he neglects to read. So when the ancient dinosaur skeleton in the entrance hall comes to life once the sun goes down of course he is little prepared and does not realise that he should be using the rib bone in a game of fetch to keep the dinosaur amused. Not something that would spring to my mind either! This is just the beginning of a bizarre night when everything in the museum comes to life, including the wax models of cave men, Atilla the Hun and a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus. There are some hilarious antics with these characters but of course they act as stereotypes, Atilla for example runs around screaming at the top of his lungs for no reason other than because he 'is' Atilla the Hun who obviously acted like a savage. However I do think the writers were aware of the sterotypes they were using and play on them. There is a funny scene when Atilla clashes with 21st century sensibilities and we find out why he is running around and screaming all the time. Other little scenes play on our expectations; a native American is seen listening to the ground and comes up with a typically insightful comment about how she knows a car has crashed in the distance. All around her are amazed until she shows them that the car is in fact visible, only they were so intent looking at her they neglected to see it. Another (less amusing?) stereotype are the museum staff who populate the museum. The curator is not surprisingly English (played by 'David Brent', Ricky Gervais which says it all really), fussy, dressed up to the nines in tweed and clearly hates anyone touching 'his' museum objects. Despite the size of the museum he seems to be the only person running it, except for one very pretty docent who makes friends with our hero.

In an interesting premise, one of the wax models of Teddy Roosevelt makes it clear that he knows he is not Roosevelt, only a model of him which opens up a lot of identity issues to be explored. However this is more of a throw-away comment which seems quickly forgotten as the action takes over. Although this was diverting, I was interested in the various types of model that populate the museum from the anatomically correct 'savages' to the disturbingly faceless Civil War soldiers. Perhaps these reflect a 'history' of how humans of different historical periods have been represented in museums, or how some persons of history are allowed to be represented as 'more' human? For example the 'faceless' soldiers was perhaps a comment on the faceless and dehumanizing aspects of war? Maybe I am reading too much into something which on many levels was a 'kid's film' but with the success of cartoons such as the Simpsons I am not so sure.

The plot becomes slightly more silly towards the middle of the film but I will not spoil it in case you are desperate to go and see it as a result of this review :). Still the film succumbs to a sentimental ending which always makes me squirm but overall I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see museums presented as fun and interesting places. Unfortunately I feel that a great many children will be enormously disappointed that dinosaurs do not really come to life when the museum closes but I know if I was 8 years old I would look at the skeletons in the London Natural History Museum in a new light, and wonder if maybe...

2 comments:

Amy (aka 'Attic') said...

I want to see it now! Sounds like there were some interesting themes/concepts emerging, even if they weren't developed.

Ceri said...

It states on IMDb that numbers of visitors to the NY Natural History Museum increased after this film was released.

I always wanted to write a horror film in a museum - at the moment I can only think of House of Wax :)