- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The box-office hit “Night at the Museum” is coming to the Smithsonian Institution with a sequel that brings famed pilot Amelia Earhart back to life. She’s even got a little crush on the beloved night security guard played by Ben Stiller.

In “Night at the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian,” Amy Adams will play Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart will be a central character, and there’s a key role for her bright red Lockheed Vega airplane - part of a National Air and Space Museum exhibit, said film director Shawn Levy. The aircraft has long been on display at the Smithsonian museum, where filming took place for several days in May.

Mr. Levy provided a few hints about how the story will unfold.

“Imagine if every aircraft [in the museum] came alive, including the pilots,” he said. “The Smithsonian is so huge. … We can have everything from aircraft to artworks come to life.”

Filming took place day and night at the air and space museum and on the Mall, home to most of the Smithsonian’s esteemed museums. It’s also being shot in Vancouver. Audiences will have to wait until Memorial Day in 2009 to see the finished product.

In the sequel, Mr. Stiller’s character, Larry Daley, comes to the District to find his friends from the 2006 flick. They had been shipped from New York’s American Museum of Natural History to a mythical underground vault spanning the entire Mall, Mr. Levy said.

Larry will be reunited with the silly monkey who slapped him around and stole his keys. And he’ll again meet the tiny cowboy played by Owen Wilson. Stone-cold exhibits by day, they spring to life when the sun goes down, making some kids wonder whether that’s how museums actually work.

A fresh twist comes with the addition of Adams, who takes on the Earhart character as a “strong-willed, fast-talking, sharp-witted compatriot,” Mr. Levy said.

He promises some of the same magic from his first museum film, though with a new concept. The first movie was heavy on animals, with a T-Rex and others coming to life at night in the natural history museum in New York. The sequel will draw on aviation history, the space race and presidential portraits. (Though filming didn’t take place at other Smithsonian museums, Hollywood may re-create scenes at the National Portrait Gallery and perhaps others.)

“Animating rockets and airplanes is a completely new feat,” Mr. Levy said.

The Smithsonian, which includes 19 museums, the National Zoo and several research centers, stands to gain more than $1 million and thousands of new visitors - if the film does well. Officials at the museum complex got excited about the idea in part because the original “Night at the Museum” helped generate a 20 percent increase in visitors at the American Museum of Natural History and new enthusiasm among children.

The Smithsonian’s revenue includes a $550,000 licensing fee for use of the Smithsonian name in the movie title. Other revenue will come from location fees for shooting at the crowded air and space museum, which remained open for business during the filming, and payments based on box office sales and select merchandise.

The film is the first Hollywood movie to carry the Smithsonian name for theatrical distribution.

Because the Smithsonian is integral to the movie, a committee of curators and staff reviewed the script. But they were sworn to secrecy about the plot. Claire Brown, a spokeswoman for the air and space museum, said they suggested only minor changes for accuracy.

Mr. Levy, who had never been to the Smithsonian until six months ago, said he came away with plenty of new ideas from the curators, “because the real Smithsonian was way cooler than my idea of the Smithsonian.”

Museum officials were surprised to have personal visits from Mr. Levy and producers early in the project. In their pitch, the producers stressed their hopes of using the film to help generate interest in museums among children.

“It’s a demographic that is extremely important to our future,” Mrs. Brown said. “So that was a big selling point for us.”

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