Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens movie review

This 2009 CGI animated 3D family film is from Dreamworks studio, and is the story of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who on her wedding day gets struck by a falling meteor which causes her to grow 50-feet tall. She is quickly captured by the US military and taken where other monsters are held being held, a brilliant scientist who turned himself into a cockroach, an indestructible gelatinous blob called Bob, the missing link fishman, and a 350 foot giant insect who became big after being struck with radiation. They must join forces and protect California, as an alien mastermind tries to take it over. It’s Monsters vs. Aliens and we’re just the collateral damage. But yeah, no one dies here oddly enough.

Let’s talk first about the 3D in the film. Monster vs. Aliens is the first animated feature film produced in Real 3D rather than just converting the film print after into 3D, which added 15 million more to the overall cost of this film. And frankly, it was pretty much wasted. Some of the 3D scenes were good, like in the beginning someone is playing with a paddle ball and the ball bounces back and forth, seemingly striking viewers at random, and there are some nice space debris scenes in 3D, but overall, yeah not that impressive. The 3D never feels immersive like it did with Coraline 3D, or even Bolt 3D. The 3D here always feels like a gimmick and a not entirely good one. It really feels like the art of using 3D technology in films took a step back here.

I had very high expectations for this one. The trailers and tv spots made the film look fun and inventive, while still retaining the old charm of the old Godzilla and other monster movies. I’m a big fan of the cinema known as Kaiju (which means Strange Beast), films where giant monsters battle humanity or one another, popularized during the 50’s at late night drive-ins. Such examples of this are Mothra, Godzilla, Rodan, etc. However, this movie also harkens back to such great early creature films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly, The Blob, Attack of the 50-ft Woman, Them!, etc. So after the melding of so many classic conventions and characters how did this movie hold up?

Well, it’s not as good as I was hoping it would be. Perhaps a CGI animated movie about monsters destroying things just can’t be done well, or maybe it’s just because Dreamworks generally makes crappy movies. My friend commented, maybe Pixar can do it, but this movie has really shaken me.

There are some nice homage’s if you’re a fan of the monster genre. The military comments that we need to Destroy All Monster which is reference to the great 1968 film of the same name, and if you know what to look for, there are posters layered throughout the film like little Easter eggs. And the animation overall is quite nice, San Francisco is breathtaking as is the giant alien robot the monsters fight on the Golden Gate Bridge. That fight scene is amazing. Personally I think the giant robot is the best aspect of the movie. It looks like one of those plastic Easter eggs that when you open them you find candy inside. The robot looks stunning and totally kicks ass.

However none of that hides the incredible pacing problems this film has. While this should feel like a light and fun action comedy, there were stretches where it was incredibly boring, where you have all these monsters and aliens standing around and nothing really happens. I mean one of the monsters is like a 100 stories tale and all he does is blow snot. It’s just sad use of creatures. And while the dialogue was witty, most of the movie fell to the same problem most Dreamworks animated films fall too, an over reliance on pop culture and stupid, “look at me I’m funny” kind of jokes. For example, The US President when first confronted by aliens busts out a keyboard and plays Herbie Hancock’s Rockit as he dances all around, finally ending the piece with a Vulcan peace sign. Ugh. Also, I know we live in the MTV generation, but I think it was an odd choice for this movie to have so many quick cuts. Generally that’s used for budget constraints and because most people have short attention spans, but this is animation, you can draw whatever the hell you want, so why bother with fast cuts to hide what you aren’t doing? I don’t get it. An overreliance on flash over substance is the Dreamworks norm though. However that’s not the worst part.

I mean you have a movie about a bunch of giant creatures destroying everything, so it should be fun right? But truthfully the action really isn’t that interesting. First off, it should have been Monster vs. Monsters because the aliens concept wasn’t utilized enough. You have this alien being with high-tech weaponry that can destroy things in an instant, and yet none of it is every used on a simple human girl. The whole alien aspect of the film took a back story to the monster aspects and I think that really hurt the film because it’s not just Monsters, but Monsters vs. Aliens. Also the action got a bit too chaotic at times, as all these bright colors flash by at incredible speeds, and robots explode everywhere, it’s hard to keep track of what you’re seeing.

Still, the one thing I always fault Dreamworks for, their dependence on named voice talent, really helped the film here. All the voice talent is great. I know you dislike her, but Resse Witherspoon as Susan was surprisingly good here and her voice worked for her character. Will Arnett as the Missing Link is just faux machismo personified. Hugh Laurie as Dr. Cockroach, PHD was a nice nod to this House tv show character. Seth Rogen was really fantastic here as Bob the indestructible goo. The same laid back persona he uses in his live action films, really works as he ratchets things up 10 notches and plays this really dumb yet loveable blue blob. Steven Colbert was also nice as the President of the United States, although he’s not utilized enough. Rainn Wilson as the Alien Gallaxhar was only okay. I think after The Rocker, I can’t stand his voice anymore. Even Keifer Sutherland was in this one as the general W.R. Monger (get it?) who was in charge of the monsters. Overall I was really pleasantly surprised with the voice cast.

While a step back from last year’s Kun-Fu Panda, I don’t think this is as bad as the Shrek 3 and Madagascar 2 dreak that Dreamworks puts out. It’s mildly entertaining, and I think kids will get a kick out of all the action scenes. Things are very bright and flashy equipment constantly go boom. So I give this a “dvd/matinee” rating. The story had so much potential and could have been so much better, but as with most Dreamworks animated films, it’s a slightly wasted effort here.

No comments: