Review: Night At The Museum (2006)

Composer: Alan Silvestri

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 778 2

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Coming straight from his latest box office miracle, the remake of Pink Panther (2006), director Shawn Levy was called upon to take over directing duties from Stephen Sommers for Night At The Museum. Sommers was apparently suffering from a little time pressure with the scripts for When Worlds Collide (2008) and The Mummy 3 (2008), so handing over the project was probably the best solution. Only Sommer's friend and co-founder of The Sommers Company, Bob Ducsay, stayed on-board as the film's producer along with Chris Columbus. In the quirky fantasy/comedy Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a bumbling yet caring family father in divorce, who dreams of bigger things even though he is the prime example of a looser. Larry has no job and his poor resume isn't exactly a door opener either, so he has to accept a vacant post as a night guard at the museum of natural history and replaces old night guards Cecil, Gus and Reginald (brilliant: Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs) who want to go on pension. Little does Larry know what happens at the museum at night. All of the exhibits develop a life of their own as soon as the sun is setting due to a mysterious ancient tablet of Pharaoh Ahkmenrah, bringing chaos to what was supposed to be a boring night shift for Larry. As if that would not be enough for $ 11.50 an hour, the tablet suddenly disappears...

The score:

It was probably the film's strong connection to Stephen Sommers through its producer Bob Ducsay which opened the museum's doors for Alan Silvestri when the first choice John Ottman was suddenly off the project. Sommers and Ducsay only spoke with words of highest praise about Silvestri's work for Van Helsing (2004) or The Mummy Returns (2001) in interviews while Sommers was saying in 2004 that he would certainly hire the composer for whatever projects that might be down the alley. Contracting Silvestri on Night At The Museum to musically bring the exhibits to life was probably the best thing that happened to the film. There was certainly a large need for his strong melodic signature themes, sense for magical mystery and playful quirkiness. Silvestri did just that and composed a total of about 60 minutes of orchestral music for the film that is rich on melody and often busy in its stirring writing with a lot of small ideas, all tied together by his knack for handling the orchestra and choir like no other recent composer. Admittedly, the end result is a bit all over the place with maybe a bit too many too small, almost stalling-esque mickey-mousing ideas that will make it hard to keep things in focus while listening to the quite lengthy album. Although it is a bit too busy at times it can still maintain a constant entertainment level and often saves the film in various scenes, functioning as a very well-crafted enhancement of the overall cinematic experience. Silvestri was given much more spotlight in the picture itself than usual, starting with a very prominent integration of the music into the overall sound mix.

If you were wondering where great title sequences have been these days, you will be surprised by Night At The Museum which has a very lengthy title sequence starting with shots of New York City's skyline as Silvestri is starting his score with gentle glockenspiel, celesta and flute. As the title "Night At The Museum" comes up over a panorama shot of the museum, Silvestri builds his mystifyingly magical theme on the strings, formerly announced by horns, to lure the audience into the building and into his music. The interior of the museum is now shown with a slow montage of the individual exhibits and Silvestri is perfectly referencing the most important ones with individual musical signatures. A scream of horns comes up when we see the big Anubis statues and the sarcophagus of Pharao Akmenrah, a brief hint of  Silvestri's heroic Teddy Roosevelt theme is played by horns as the wax figure of the former president appears on screen, a brief gentle woodwinds-moment highlights the elegant Indian squaw Sakagawea while tight male choir plus African percussion accompany the Easter islands idol. A shot of the T-Rex skeleton receives a dominant Silvestri-male choir outburst in best Van Helsing (2004) fashion heard at the end of the track and the male choir remains the most prominent musical signature for the T-Rex. The magical main theme only comes in occasionally and Silvestri always makes effective use of it, for example in the scenes when the "Sunrise" scene when morning light ends the magic in the museum. While Silvestri does musical references to the origins of the exhibitions such as these throughout the score, he rarely does it 'into-your-face' and they come along as rather subtle, leaving you enough stuff to discover after you have seen the flick and play the disc again. A real treat for Silvestri fans will be his theme for Larry Daley. The lowbrow family father received a fitting, quirky motif introduced in "One Of Those Days" consisting of pizzicato strings against a very slight rhythmic backdrop of light percussion and synths with an e-piano coming in later. The pop-modernism gently resembles Silvestri's old days of Romancing The Stone (1984) while the pizzicato strings add something freshly melodic to it. No family movie would be perfect without an emotional, musical theme for the family as introduced on piano and strings in "An Ordinary Guy". Since Larry lives in divorce and struggles to get a job in order to see his son, the family theme is warm and sad at the same time, always expressing his desire to be a good father despite being a loser.

"Tour Of The Museum" is a nice track. Very subtle but well orchestrated and contains some interesting references such as exotic percussion for the animals of africa and an odd wind instrument to highlight the Easter islands idol for a brief moment. It's one of many effective moments that will only jump at you as being cool after you have experienced them along with the movie. From that point on, the cue names of the album can be a bit misleading because they don't match what happens in the film (probably to avoid possible spoilers, so sorry in advance if I am ruining anything here). "Civil War Soldiers" is actually the entire T-rex skeleton sequence starting with some really neatly done suspense music for low woodwinds and low strings put against the magical sounds of glockenspiel and sparkling to create an uneasy contrast as Larry realizes that the skeleton is gone. The dark Van Helsing choir then announces the discovery of the quite lively bone-rex while some pulse-pounding action music with heavy percussions and fast-paced ostinatos for strings and trumpets is following Larry's panicky escape attempt. But 'Rexy' suddenly turns out to be frisky instead of hungry, so Silvestri throws in the Larry Daley theme and clearly saves the humour of the scene with that decision. The last bit of the track is dedicated to a broad statement of the wondrous main theme followed by more frenzy mayhem for orchestra. Frenzy mayhem is also a good description for "Out Of Africa" which is actually underscoring an attack of Attila and the Huns with some insanely overpowering, wild synth percussion and atonal horn screams. A lovely flute moment is heard at the end to introduce Larry to the beautiful squaw Sakagawea. Now come the civil war soldier puppets and fight a little brother war along with a Silvestri-snare-drum-feast in "Meet Dexter". Stalling-esque mickey-mousing moments for strings and, well, everything else are accompanying scared Larry's run through the museum hallways with a sudden set of percussion strikes over high tremolo strings notifying us that he has just entered the lion's den. One of my favourite moments comes at the end of "Mayan Warriors" when Larry is doing acrobatics to get back some papers. It's an elegantly comical moment for flutes, low woodwinds and a frenetic violin, fiddling around until an odd coda.

After some glockenspiel magic plus impressionistical flute stuff in "Where's Rexy" for the nasty little ape Dexter and some magically suspenseful moments in "West From Africa" comes a short but nicely tongue-in-cheek statement of big sky western music ala Bruce Broughton in "The Iron Horse" for the small cowboy figure Jedadiah. Silvestri continues in "Saved By Teddy" with some vibrant battle music as small Octavius' legions unleash hell before a cool and dynamic brass fanfare moment of Teddy Roosevelt's noble, adventurous theme rouses as the former president is saving Larry. Teddy explains to Larry the curse of "The Tablet Of Akmenrah" with Silvestri lurking in his theme for the pharaoh in there. A romance between Teddy and the Indian squaw Sakagawea starts developing with a soft and subtle piano motif in "Tracking, Dear Boy" which is later continued in "Teddy Likes Sakagawea" but never expands into a full romantic theme. A noble horn statement of Teddy's theme comes in "Some Men Are Born Great" when he lectures Larry with Shakespeare's famous quote. A montage follows when Larry has to "Study Up On History" which contains snippets of Silvestri's main theme along with some modern, Thomas Newman-like electronic percussion and this is definitely a cool moment even though it was clearly in the temp-track. Silvestri is mickey-mousing through "Tearing Limbs", "Caveman On Fire" and "Outrun The Sun". From here the album starts dragging a bit, so the quiet colourful track "Show You What I Do" can easily get lost even though there is some nice percussion and suspense stuff for quiet choir going on while "Tablet Is Gone" is another track that drags a bit too much. Adventure returns with "Theodore Roosevelt At Your Service" which starts with a cool action build ala Polar Express (2004). "This Is Your Moment" contains a reprise of the action music from "Civil War Soldiers" with a bit more punch to it and a set of demonic fanfares for the introduction of Pharaoh Akmenrah as he is raising from his sarcophagus. Nothing new for Silvestri since he scored The Mummy Returns (2001). After a noble outburst of jubilation fanfares in "Rally The Troops", Silvestri brings in some of the synths from "I Need Terry Sheridan" of his score for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) for a moment of coolness in "Tire Take Down". Finally, the adventurous aspect of the film really starts cooking while the music is going full steam ahead with "Cecil's Escape" and then "Stage Coach" which is easily the very highlight of the CD. Rousing fanfare sets are pounding along with steady percussion and cymbal hits reflecting on the composer's rhythmic qualities. If you had hoped for more rousing moments as these you certainly were waiting for the wrong score. The remaining cues bring most of the themes and motifs to more or less satisfying endings, most notably the Roosevelt theme in "A Great Man" while "Heroes Return" is the larger-than-life cymbal fest of the year for some really tiny heroes.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 85%

Score as heard on CD: 79%

TOTAL: 82%

 

The presentation:

In terms of presentation Varese has notably improved in recent times. The album clocks in at a wealth of 53 minutes and contains nearly everything Silvestri composed for the movie apart from maybe two or three tracks that aren't of much crucial importance. Varese has recently taken over the practice of cross-fading cues. That practice was really annoying on their album for X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) but works wonders here for Night At The Museum because the cross fades are often improving the flow of the music, making the album a much more pleasant listening experience. In fact, you will barely notice these fades because they are happening right on spot to bridge gaps between the often short tracks. A plus also goes to the booklet where a lot of colour pictures where used along with a full credit of the orchestra players. The sound quality is very good. While it may not be the most satisfying listening experience for some people, Varese still deserves credit for releasing most of the music instead of leaving out one half and cutting the other half into suites without any narrative logic as Disney Records did it with Silvestri's The Wild (2006). You will be guaranteed to find your most favourite moment of score from Night At The Museum on this CD!

Presentation by the Label: 70%

 

Summary:

If you are excepting another big stroke of genius ala The Polar Express (2004) or The Mummy Returns (2001), then you are in for a big disappointment because this one is clearly more on Mouse Hunt (1998) territory. But it can still be quite an entertaining experience to hear what Silvestri can do musically even within the briefest tracks. There is almost too much going on in each and every cue that this score definitely requires multiple listens to fully get into it. It's not so much a problem that most cues are short (actually, it will come down to each of you if you have a problem with a score just because of a short average track length). In fact, most of them merge very well into each other. After a strong opening with the excellently lyrical main title theme heard in "Night At The Museum" or some pounding action in "Civil War Soldiers" and "Saved By Teddy" the album will come to a point where it feels a bit too unconnected, especially in the middle section where only the Thomas Newman-esque main theme variation of "Study Up On History" will sustain interest. Although the middle section is missing a bit more bite the last third will reward you with some more marvellous moments of grandeur ("Rally The Troops"), action ("Stage Coach"), epic size ("Heroes Return") and drama ("A Great Man") again all happening within rather short musical titbits. I guess we don't need to talk again about Silvestri's knack for tight orchestral writing and development of themes because these are really commonly known standards of his work by now. If you are one of those who enjoy his music just for these standards you will have one of the best film music experiences of 2006 while others will probably need a bit more patience to discover the good that lies within this score.

 

Tracklisting:

01. Night At The Museum (02:35)
02. One Of Those Days (00:49)
03. An Ordinary Guy? (01:27)
04. Tour Of The Museum (02:35)
05. Civil War Soldiers (04:08)
06. Out Of Africa (01:07)
07. Meet Dexter (01:27)
08. Mayan Warriors (00:57)
09. Where's Rexy? (00:48)
10. West From Africa (01:49)
11. The Iron Horse (01:06)
12. Saved By Teddy (01:57)
13. Tablet Of Akmenrah (00:37)
14. Tracking, Dear Boy (01:08)
15. Some Men Are Born Great (00:50)
16. Sunrise (00:42)
17. Study Up On History (02:15)
18. Teddy Likes Sacagawea (01:53)
19. Tearing Limbs (01:45)
20. Caveman On Fire (00:43)
21. Outrun The Sun (00:58)
22. Show You What I Do (02:55)
23. Tablet's Gone (02:45)
24. Theodore Roosevelt At Your Service (01:11)
25. This Is Your Moment (02:10)
26. Rally The Troops (01:07)
27. Tree Take Down (01:21)
28. Cecil's Escape (01:26)
29. Stage Coach (02:28)
30. Teddy In Two (01:18)
31. Cab Ride (00:50)
32. Big Fan (01:03)
33. Heroes Return (00:54)
34. A Great Man (00:57)
35. Full House (01:21)