Blu-ray
Recommended
3.5 stars
List Price
$12.99
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$11.79 (9%)
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$11.15
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
2.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Monsters

Street Date:
February 1st, 2011
Reviewed by:
Nate Boss
Review Date: 1
March 23rd, 2011
Movie Release Year:
2010
Studio:
Magnolia
Length:
94 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Six years ago...NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A space probe was launched to collect samples, but broke up during re-entry over Mexico. Soon after, new life forms began to appear and half the country was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today... the Mexican and US military still struggle to contain 'the creatures'...

Films like 'Monsters' are a big part of why I'm such a film fanatic. This isn't some mega brainless blockbuster, with gravity defying effects or a complex story that requires repeat viewings to fully "get." There are no "name" actors, no random cameos, and the realistic feel the film gives off is only amplified due to not having this kind of distraction. It's cinematic minimalism, with a sub-million dollar budget, yet it doesn't seem at all cheap. Best of all, it's a film that, even if unintentionally, has some interesting undertones and ideas throughout, and is culturally relevant, a statement film on accident.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, making his feature film debut for both aspects, and starring Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, both actors whose collective film careers could be considered less than successful, 'Monsters' creates a story and atmosphere that seems very personal, a wild idea that, through unusual inspiration, burgeoned into one of the more interesting science fiction films of 2010.

Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), an on assignment photographer who makes good money photographing the bizarre alien creatures and the carnage they create, is tasked with escorting his boss's daughter, Samantha (Able), from Central America back to the United States. After failing to gain passage on the last commercial ship to America before quarantine goes into effect for six months, the duo decide to travel through the Infected Zone, which covers the Northern half to two-thirds of Mexico, to their destination, through a group of coyotes. As they journey, their run ins and close calls with the alien creatures give Kaulder the chance of a lifetime to hit paydirt, though his feelings for Samantha and her inquiries about the morality of his job make him question his life. It's 200 kilometers to the American border, and the most impressive border wall ever built; Kaulder and Samantha have to survive the journey to get there, though, and what they discover may not be all they envisioned.

I find it amazingly difficult to believe that any parallels to the immigration of the various nationalities south of the border are a mere coincidence. To be frank, I don't buy it for a second. When you have a film that shows a giant border wall that is exactly on the US/Mexico border, to keep the "undesirable" visitors out, a film that refers to the majority of a country as infected, it's hard to not catch these small things and put two and two together. So, while I call bullshit on that little nugget, I can say that what is delivered on screen is a very effective, if none-too-subtle allegory, and one of the better message films to come out in some time.

The way 'Monsters' was filmed gives it all sorts of credibility, and frequently left me in awe, as the majority of the people shown are just residents of the areas where filming took place, and filming itself wasn't a beleaguered, long drawn out affair, as numerous locations never granted permission for the crew to work. It's guerilla filmmaking, a pseudo-"found footage" genre journey through the heart of a dangerous, borderline forbidden, destitute land. The "extras," as it were, are entirely believable, as they are 100 percent real. The dialogue seems natural, because it's somewhat ad-libbed, made up on the spot, with just a general idea to work with. The end result is a believable film that's low on polish, but has surprisingly good special effects, despite a nearly non-existent budget.

'Monsters' isn't a film that will universally appeal, though. There are plenty of people who still can't stand films like 'The Blair Witch Project,' who will dismiss the film due to the fact that there aren't aliens in it every second. Of course, some of the best science fiction films about aliens (like, for example, 'Alien') focus on the characters and do their best to hide the aliens themselves so as to create a more looming, ever present threat. The false start to the film is unfortunate, as it would have worked better in the end, where it belongs, but perhaps the filmmaker felt that audiences needed to see the threat of the creatures early, as it takes some time before the creatures are seen being the biohazards they're hyped up to be in the film. 'Monsters' has its heart and brains in the right place, and the end result is a very fun sci-fi film that may have great replay value, and definitely has the potential to become a very strong series, if it can be financially viable.

The Disc: Vital Stats

'Monsters' arrives on Blu-ray on a BD50 Dual Layer disc from Magnolia. There are currently two editions of the film available on Blu-ray, and the only difference between them is the presence of a slipcover and a paper only digital copy found on the special edition. The discs themselves are supposedly identical. This disc does a great job of remembering playback details, and when asked if you want to continue where you left off in a previous viewing session, all the pre-menu content is skipped. Magnolia, you got it right!

Pre-menu trailers include: 'Ong Bak 3,' 'All Good Things,' 'Night Catches Us,' 'Vanishing on 7th Street,' 'Rubber,' and an HDNet promo.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

I didn't go into 'Monsters' with high hopes, considering what I have read about how the film was made, concerning how it would look. I'm honestly surprised it looked this good, as the 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray has its moments, even if it is almost consistently mediocre.

Detail levels are never overly strong, as even near-close up shots have a bit of dullness to them, so don't expect super sharp and shiny picture qualities here, even if there is no dirt or scratch issues. Instead, there are messy skin tones, banding in some areas, tiny bits of aliasing and a few jagged edges, a few edge enhanced ones, too, slight noise issues, grain spikes, random murkiness, and artifacting that really comes to light in the darkest moments. Sure, the film is colorful, and it has a nice aesthetic to it, which is very guerilla and rough, so it shouldn't look pristine, but the random depth quality mixed with random clarity can be a bit frustrating.

Go in with low expectations, so you can either be satisfied or quite pleased with the look of this release.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix on 'Monsters' is pretty effective, much more so than the video.

Dialogue is slightly understated, but always comes through clearly and intelligibly. Bass levels go from nearly non-existent to quite powerful and effective any time a creature is on screen, and these thumps are really quite effective. Rear presence isn't too powerful, but with some good localization and movement, the back channels usually have something to do. There are no hollow effects or dialogue, no "out of place" noises that seemed added way into post, no sync issues, and no feedback whatsoever.

This film feels like a documentary, but with better rear use. As such, it's pretty neat.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

There's a whole 'lotta HD goin' on in this supplement section. Magnolia, a huge thumbs up for this!

  • Audio Commentary With Gareth Edwards, Scoot McNairy, and Whitney Able. This is a genuine, nice little track, where we get to hear about the scenes that didn't make it, how the unusual filming style worked, their experiences with the people on screen, how they kept track of dirt levels on clothing, and so on. They warmly reminisce about the various encounters on filming. This track adds to the fun of the way the film was made, though it is definitely only good for one listen.
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD, 20 min) - Four scenes, with an optional play all feature. A prolonged office visit that is somewhat redundant to the scenes that made it into the film starts the affair, and we get a lengthier visit in the Mexican home next, including a lengthy phone call concerning Kaulder's business. After that, another lengthy sequence, a conversation between the leads in the hotel, just getting personal. Lastly, after one of the longest deleted scenes I've seen in some time, we get the two leads conversing in a field, setting up a big romantic subplot.
  • Behind the Scenes of Monsters (HD, 69 min) - Quite a lengthy doc, which is quite self aware, opening with the statement that it wants to be big like 'Hearts of Darkness.' They do a damn fine job, the men behind this feature, as newfound respect for the film is earned, there's a great in depth load of coverage, a brisk pace, and information overload to boot. If you love the film, hit this up!
  • Monsters: The Edit (HD, 21 min) - How do you edit a film that doesn't really have a script? The difficulties of this task are detailed in this feature, going from 100 hours of footage to less than two, dealing with spacing out alien moments to keep suspense and intrigue in the film. There's discussion of numerous lengthier cuts of the film, including an over four hour cut of the film, which, I can't imagine, has all that much alien activity on top. This one flies right by.
  • Visual Effects (HD, 35 min) - A bit too long this time...A basic look at the special effects in the film, designing them and planning out the entire ordeal. If you've seen a special effects feature, you've seen this, just maybe not as in depth.
  • Interview with Gareth Edwards (HD, 44 min) - Edwards talks about making a film without going through the conventional channels, some analogies and themes for the feature, his experiences creating and making 'Monsters,' how people would react to what we'd consider extraordinary when it's ordinary to them, and various other topics. This is an interesting feature, but it starts to become a bit of a rambler as the time goes on.
  • Interview with Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (HD, 28 min) - This one is easier to listen to, as the duo bounce off topics more naturally without rambling, and interact a little, rather than aimlessly ruminating. They discuss how they prepared for the film, with so little script to work with, as well as the political subtext, intentional or no, as well as numerous disasters and plights. Able disappoints, since she's much less hot here than she is in the film. Deal breaker!
  • New York Comic Con Discussion with Gareth Edwards (HD, 5 min) - Edwards discusses how the film came to be, and his hopes for the film. Basic stuff, skippable, as it's more fluff than anything.
  • HDNet: A Look at Monsters (HD, 4 min) - An extended promo/ad for the film. Hey, it's a mixture of interview and film footage we've already seen! Pass.
  • Previews - Just the same pre-menu trailers.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Aside from a Digital Copy sheet (no disc), Bookmarks are the only exclusive! You could say BD-Live is on board, too, but an empty portal doesn't exactly count for much. Well, I'll assume it's empty. In four attempts, I couldn't get it to load!

Final Thoughts

'Monsters' may be one of the best surprises of 2010, an unintentionally poignant, adventurous little new take on the sci-fi and "found footage" genres. I'll say this much: I didn't enjoy 'Cloverfield' anywhere near as much as I dug this. It's not an impressive disc, really, until you realize the awesomeness on display in the supplements section, which are all in high-def. Over three hours of high def extras. That has to count for something, and in this review, that helps cement an easy recommendation for this disc.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD50 Dual Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, Spanish

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Trailers
  • Making of features
  • Interviews

Exclusive HD Content

  • Digital Copy
  • BD-Live

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List Price
$12.99
Amazon
$11.79 (9%)
3rd Party
$11.15
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

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