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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
Glimpses of classic Silvestri action style, but album is a frustrating experience
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A classic set-up for a kids' adventure movie (a security guard at night is trapped inside a museum as all the exhibits come to life) and a cast including big-name comedy actors of the past and present saw Night at the Museum do brisk box office business despite lukewarm reviews. It was directed by Shawn Levy, who had previously made things like Cheaper by the Dozen and the remake of The Pink Panther, and originally he turned to John Ottman for the music but after that didn't work out for whatever reason, the reliable Alan Silvestri was brought in. 2006 was a relatively quiet year for the usually-prolific composer (the Disney animation The Wild was his only other project) but this seemed like the perfect assignment for him, allowing him the chance to do his usual bright action music on a large scale.
The disc opens promisingly, with a rambunctious main theme vaguely reminiscent of The Mummy Returns, but highlights are surprisingly sparse thereafter. There are many very short cues (the 53-minute disc has 35 cues) - admittedly most of these are fine on their own, well-composed little vignettes, but after a succession of them it can become rather tiresome for the listener. Silvestri being the talented professional that he is, there are several very fine pieces of action music, but the short cue lengths means these are never developed into becoming something truly satisfying.
The music is endlessly schizophrenic, skimming from this place to that, and for all the instantly-identifiable Silvestri charm of pieces like "Civil War Soldiers", "Saved by Teddy" and the beautiful "Rally the Troops", it is hard not to compare this with a score from a film with which Night at the Museum was itself compared, Jumanji. James Horner's score for that is not one of his more popular (I find it to be absolutely fine), but compare the composers' approaches - Horner's score album is virtually the same length, but contains a third of the number of cues - and half of them are over four minutes long (one reaching 12 minutes). Now, I'm not saying that I judge how good a score is based on how long its cues are, but this marked difference in approach from the two composers show that there are many ways to skin a cat - and while Silvestri's almost certainly gets the job done in the film just as well, Horner's inevitably proves to be the more satisfying on an album.
If the defining adjective to place alongside this music as film music would be "hyperactive", perhaps the defining one to place alongside it as an album would be "frustrating" - it is plain to hear the quality underlying so much of it, and there are some satisfying themes here, but they are presented in short bursts all the time rather than ever being developed. Job done in the film, then - but the album will probably be a bit of a struggle for all but the most loyal Silvestri devotee, deprived of much new music from the composer of late. If you're in love with the composer's music for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Mummy Returns, and fancy hearing the thematic strength of the latter transported into the madcap world of the former, then it's certainly recommended; for others, despite the music's qualities, it will be a harder sell.