I'm pretty excited about the upcoming Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which will feature fictitious pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) as a bad guy who loots the Smithsonian's treasures. The resultant "Pile of Loot" plays a prominent role in the film, and the Smithsonian Castle is displaying the prop beginning this week and throughout the summer. But until it graced the National Mall, the Pile of Loot was stored in one of the Smithsonian's support facilities in Landover, Maryland. And so, I took a field trip to get a sneak peek at this piece of movie memorabilia.
When I saw it, the Pile of Loot was hiding in a storage room in a plastic-wrap girdle—a giant three-piece styrofoam mound on wheels doused with glue and paint and topped with a smorgasbord of flea market finds. I quickly started snapping pictures and made a game out of walking around the prop to see what cultural artifacts Hollywood deemed worthy to be the object of an evil pharaoh's desire.
Let me tell you, Kahmunrah's personal tastes really run the gamut. It's certainly a lot of fun to think that a man of his social stature would decorate his palace with urns, vases, Oriental rugs, and mounds of gold jewelry complemented by a Nintendo Entertainment System, a Lite Brite, hula hoops, brownie cameras and a handsome collection of Bundt pans. (And let it be known that this blogger can spot a Suzy Homemaker oven under a pile of junk at a range of six feet—boo yah!)
It was also very cool that the prop department created museum-quality tags and labels for the artifacts. Not that you'll be able to spot little things like that in the movie—but it's a sign that the movie's design team meant business when it set out to recreate the Smithsonian.
But is it all just a big pile of kitsch? Not so! Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of entertainment and popular culture at the National Museum of American History, sees the Pile of Loot as an apropos metaphor for the Smithsonian museums. "I think when people come to visit us they perhaps mentally think of as a pile because they're barraged with lots of images of lots of artifacts and perhaps in their mind's eye, it remains sort of a pile of imagery—a pile of images that they take away from the Mall and take home with them."
For more on Night at the Museum and the Smithsonian, check out our special section including an interview with actress Amy Adams, who plays Amelia Earhart, and director Shawn Levy.
The Pile of Loot is on view in the Smithsonian Castle Building from May 4 through Sept. 30.