Monday, July 11, 2011

Wish we'd seen this a month ago

Last night my wife and I watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Of all the movies we've never seen, we considered this to be the most pressing.

Actually, we'd seen the original in the theater as a necessary break from a frantic Christmas season back east, and found it quite charming as the movie went on -- the rare case of a movie that got better as it progressed in the act structure. We'd had Battle of the Smithsonian on our radar as a good candidate for some mindless fun when our minds needed it. I don't know that our minds needed it especially last night, but I borrowed it from the library on Friday, so circumstance put it in our path.

But I really wish we'd watched it sometime in early June.

See, in mid June, we visited the Smithsonian. That's right, we allotted about two hours on our last day, after which we needed to leave for the airport, to take in the whole Smithsonian.

I will pause for a second while you finish laughing.

See, the way the Smithsonian is referred to, it makes it sounds like it's one museum. One building that has everything from Fonzie's jacket to dinosaur bones. Definitely a museum worth checking out if you're in D.C., right?

Ha. "The" Smithsonian is actually 19 separate museums, a fact we would have realized if we'd seen Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian before our trip to D.C. At about the 15-minute mark of the movie, it's spelled out in no uncertain terms. And then of course becomes a major part of the narrative.

Now, I knew there were a lot of museums in D.C. This was on my radar from when I was a child, when I visited a number of them, and my family always made a big deal out of the fact that they were free. (They're not free anymore, but we happened to be there on a "Free Tuesday," so we lucked out -- which also explains why the place was packed.) But I thought one of them was called The Smithsonian, and the rest were their own other things. And in fact, my delusion lasted all the way up until we arrived, since our GPS also gave us a single address for "The Smithsonian."

It was only once we'd gotten there, circled for awhile and then shelled out a ridiculous amount for parking (something like $18) that we realized "The" Smithsonian was a massive campus of buildings stretched down the mall. Our parking fiasco had already eaten up a good 45 minutes, leaving us only about 90 minutes to consume the entirety of this place, to somehow find Fonzie's jacket.

My wife's interest was in the Natural History portion of the Smithsonian, since that's where Bones works. She watches Bones, and the forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) has an office on campus. (I guess the true massive scale of the Smithsonian was not made clear by the TV show either.) So that's where we made a bee-line.

And actually saw a decent amount of stuff in what had basically become a condensed hour. We saw the Hope Diamond and a statue from Easter Island and some spiders and some animal skeletons. However, the real coup was stumbling across an exhibit devoted specifically to forensic anthropology. It was a pretty interesting exhibit, tracing the lives and deaths of the earliest settlers of the Chesapeake Bay by where their bones were found. There was even a mockup forensic lab to study bones. I'd say we got our money's worth, especially since it was free.

Fonzie's jacket will have to wait for next trip.

As for the movie? It was cute. Neither Night at the Museum is great, and I think I like the first one slightly better, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I laughed a number of times during this film. The character overload didn't bother me quite as much as I expected it to, and there were some interesting visual things done here, such as the characters jumping into moving paintings, and the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial (which we spent the first part of our Smithsonian day seeing) coming to life in a way that looked pretty darn good. Oh, and a giant octopus.

So what's next for Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and his crew -- the Louvre?

Already been there, at least.

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