Night at the Museum 3 – Secret of the Tomb
The third installment in the popular Night at the Museum series starts in Egypt, on an Indiana Jones-esque expedition on which explorers discover the Tomb of Ahkmenrah (a fictional Pharaoh). Inside the tomb they discover a mysterious gold tablet. They claim this tablet along with many of the other artifacts from the tomb, as part of their archeological findings and take them back to the US and UK.
Back in New York, Ben Stiller’s character, Larry, works as the night watchman in NYC’s Museum of Natural History. He has also taken on a new role as “head of special effects”, in which he oversees the magical animation of the museum’s exhibits and figures which happens every night. This is the driving premise in the film – as with the previous two installments in the series. We learn that it’s the golden tablet that is the source of the night magic. Unfortunately however, the tablet is starting to lose its power – and the answers as to why are held by Ahkmenrah’s father – who is on display at the British Museum in London. So it’s off to London for our heroes – to discover the secret of the tomb and it’s tablet!
This is a good movie for kids – and all of our children enjoyed it (ages 5/7/9). Some good action, good kid-friendly humor, and nothing that’s too scary for kids. There are also lots of historical references to people and cultures that are good conversation-startes – from Teddy Roosevelt, to the ancient city of Pompei, to Sacagewea. Though this is the third in a series of three movies, it’s not necessary to have seen the first two to enjoy this one.
The visit to London starts in classic “movie-in-London” fashion – with fast-panning shots of many of the major landmarks – all set to the classic track, “London Calling” by The Clash. Viewers get a quick view of Big Ben and Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge – before settling on a shot of Larry and his son admiring Tower Bridge from the walkway next to the Tower of London.
This is a truly iconic spot that you’ll see time and time again in books and movies – because it sits between two of the most historic London landmarks, right in the heart of Central London. It’s the same spot that was so nicely illustrated by James Mayhew in Katie in London
As our heroes arrive, you’ll see them approach the British Museum – with it’s imposing iron fence, and Roman columns. Here we meet Larry’s counterpart – the night-guard at the British Museum. She is less-than-enthusiastic about her job, but has a fanciful vision of what Larry’s job must be like in America. She lets Larry unload his crates, with his exhibit crew inside. The exhibits from NYC come alive thanks to the tablet that they’ve brought with them. Of course, given that they’re in a new museum, the British Museum exhibits come to life as well for the first time.
It’s at this point in the movie (around 32:30) where we start getting the best scenes of the museum exhibits come to life. If you’d like to visit the British Museum with kids, this is a great way to introduce them to what’s there. But be forewarned that the Museum in real life is certainly less dynamic than in the movie depiction – so be sure to make them aware that the exhibits don’t actually move (at least not during the day!). Also, while many of the exhibits are in fact real depictions of what’s actually on display, the film took many liberties – both in creating things that don’t exist at all, and in modifying many of those that did (beyond just the life-like qualities). The British Museum hosts a web page that addresses this topic of “Fact vs Fiction”.
It’s important to mention that although there are many Egyptian exhibits at the British Museum, the Tomb of Ahkmenrah is not among them. Mummies however, are some of the most interesting exhibits on display at the Museum – with over 100 human mummies (and many more animals) in the collection. The Egyptian section of the museum is one of the most impressive – with hundreds of other artifacts including some gigantic statues, and the famous Rosetta stone. Learn more here.
Larry and friends first encounter local exhibits come to life when they meet the Parthenon Marbles (aka the Elgin Marbles). These fascinating sculptures are from the Parthenon, built nearly 2500 years ago in ancient Greece. They were brought to England by Lord Elgin – on an archeological expedition not unlike the one at the start of this movie. This is not without controversy – and in fact the Greek government has asked that the statutes be returned. The British Museum has declined that request. You can read more about both the sculptures and the controversy here. The sculptures consist of realistic marble sculptures – mostly of humans and horses. Many of the limbs and some of the heads have been lost, as is common with sculptures that have survived from antiquity – which makes their animation in the movie even more interesting, if somewhat creepy.
If you plan to bring your kids to the museum, it’s highly recommended that you consider enhancing their experience via an augmented reality game called Gift for Athena – made by our friends at Gamar, a London-based software company. This clever game guides kids through a scavenger hunt in which they have to use clues to find specific sculptures in the Parthenon Marbles exhibit! The museum offers the game via tablets that they provide at scheduled times (more info here) – or you can download the game onto your smartphone or tablet to enjoy it whenever you’d like. Learn more about the game here.
As the adventure continues, the action heats up as Larry and his crew race to save the tablet – and the magic that goes along with it. Viewers are treated to more museum exhibits that come to life. Some of these are real exhibits, such as the Kakiemon Elephants, and the ancient, winged, Garuda. And others have been made up for the film – most notably the triceratops (there are many dinosaur skeletons in the London’s Museum of Natural History – featured in the movie Paddington [link], not far away – but none in the British Museum), the 9-headed serpent, and Sir Lancelot (a fictional character – albeit a very entertaining one!).
Of particular note, and indeed very real, is the Great Court – which provides the backdrop for a myriad of exhibits come to life. This vast hall with its soaring glass ceiling is built like a courtyard, and serves as the epicenter of the grand collection of wonders under the museum’s roof.
The plot continues its twists and turns, as Sir Lancelot decides to modify his famous quest for the holy grail and instead deliver the Tablet to Camelot. So after snatching the tablet, he heads out on horseback to the only Camelot he can find – a musical production in London’s Palladium theatre! (no longer running) His journey takes Larry and friends south from the British Museum to Trafalgar Square. Here the famous Trafalgar Square Lions are brought to life by the magic of the Tablet – the same lions that provided Katie’s tour in Katie in London – another story in which the big cats come to life! Thinking quickly, Larry distracts the lions with the light from his flashlight – which they chase in delight as if they were giant house cats. Here’s a fascinating video from the animation studio that shows the process of special effects that brought the Lions and other museum exhibits to life:
As Lancelot heads to the stage production of Camelot, he approaches the Palladium Theatre via Argyle Street. This is a wonderfully charming street near the Oxford Circus Tube Station. It dead ends into the tiny enclave of winding streets fronted by the Liberty building (which you can see at the end of the road – with its distinctive Tudor structure). On the other side of the Liberty building you’ll find Carnaby St – the heart of “swinging London” in the ‘60’s. It’s still a fun place to explore today for adults and kids alike – full of quaint shops, tasty snacks, and historic pubs.
Like many of London’s other museums, the British Museum is free. This makes it a great option for a short visit that is interesting and entertaining for both parents and kids. And when the kids tire of the museum, it’s easy to head out without any worry about having spent lots of pounds on admission.
One more tip… The museum has two entrances. The main entrance, with the Roman columns, is on Great Russell Street. This entrance sometimes has a long line of people waiting to go through the security check. There is also a side entrance on Montague Court. This one is less regal, and drops you in the middle of the action instead of into the Great Court, but especially with kids, this entrance might be a better choice as it rarely has a line. Knowing about this makes it much more feasible to stop in for a quick visit.