Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Night at the Museum: Accurate or Not?

This weekend, I went to the movies to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Being both a museum employee and former Smithsonian staff member, I was interested to see how Hollywood would interpret the behind-the-scenes workings of the museum world. The movie was definitely fun, but not what I would call completely "museum-accurate."

Styrofoam packing peanuts: Bad.First of all, the packing methods shown for the objects were cutting edge fifty years ago. Straw has been replaced with archival materials like Ethafoam, Volara, and Tyvek. Plus, I wouldn't want to sift through off-gassing Styrofoam packing peanuts to try to find all those unwrapped diorama figures, risking damage to their fragile limbs and weapons. I was pleased to see the object handlers at least using white gloves, though I did cringe when they man-handled things a bit roughly!

I did laugh out loud when blueprints of the Federal Archives were easily hacked into by a young kid on his laptop computer. I can guarantee that the storage layouts of the Smithsonian are safely hidden from the public. And, along those lines, while I've been in the basement of the Smithsonian Castle many times, I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to confirm or deny the concept of the Archives residing many levels underground below the National Mall.

The art is alive!However, the sets depicting object storage areas were surprisingly museum-accurate, and it was definitely a treat to watch the objects on the shelves come alive. Seeing the paintings in the art museum become windows into other worlds inspired me to wonder what it would be like to step into the stormy, turbulent seascape of our Eight Bells or join the boxer in the ring of our Salutat.

Tablet of AhkmenrahAll-in-all, the movie was entertaining, regardless of the inaccuracies. I've been in the Addison many nights after it closed and the lights were out, and while I haven't seen anything move or come alive, who knows what might happen if we ever have the Tablet of Ahkmenrah on loan to us!

James M. Sousa
Associate Registrar for Collections and Archives

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