MONSTERS VS. ALIENS
When Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is unexpectedly clobbered by a meteor full of outer space gunk, she mysteriously grows to 49-feet-11-inches tall and is instantly labeled a “Monster” named Ginormica. The military jumps into action, and she is captured by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) and held in a secret government compound filled with other “monsters” like herself. This ragtag group consists of the brilliant but insect-headed Dr. Cockroach P.H.D. (Hugh Laurie); the macho half-ape-half-fish The Missing Link (Will Arnett); the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B. (Seth Rogen); and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus. Their confinement time is cut short however, when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and the motley crew of Monsters is called into action to save the world from imminent destruction.
B.O.B.’S BIG BREAK
B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and his monstrous crew are on a mission to bust out of Area 52, the government’s top-secret holding cell. Led by mad-scientist Dr. Cockroach P.H.D. (Hugh Laurie) and macho amphibian The Missing Link (Will Arnett), the trio outwits grizzled General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) to make a triumphant escape…almost.
To tell you the truth, I'm not all that big a fan of aliens. When I was twelve in the summer of 1989, I was abducted and brought aboard a mothership where I was studied for a few hours and then returned home to go on my merry way as if nothing had happened.
Okay, I can't even type that with a straight face. The real reason is that we've reached a point in film history where we're so saturated with these intelligent beings from other worlds that it's just not interesting anymore. Every year a bunch of films on the subject are released, and one of my main pet peeves is when a movie totally jumps the shark by bringing in extraterrestrials to explain the plot, as if the writers wrote themselves into a corner and couldn't come up with something more original. Yeah, you know who you are.
Monster movies on the other hand, now there's something I adore. Yep, give me a romping, stomping, creature-feature any day of the week. I'll even take beasties from other planets, so long as they fit within the parameters of a monster profile (i.e. 'Alien,' 'Predator' etc.). So naturally, I found myself drawn to DreamWorks' 'Monsters vs. Aliens.' Sure, the film doesn't quite have the magic of the Pixar releases, but it does a great job in paying homage to the science fiction of yesteryear. Plus, when our home team of monstrosities is given the opportunity to kick some foreign space invader booty, it nearly brings a tear to my eye.
The story begins when a young woman named Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) awakens on the happiest day of her life--her wedding. Susan's dreams of tying the knot with her weatherman fiancé Derek (Paul Rudd) evolve into a nightmare when a meteorite hurling towards Earth enters the atmosphere and makes a beeline straight for the bride. The side effect causes Susan to grow to a monstrous size, which prompts the military under the command of General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland) to spring into action. Susan soon finds herself imprisoned in a secret government facility where she meets fellow societal outcasts including the brilliant mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a macho half-fish/half-ape called "The Missing Link" (Will Arnett), the gelatinous one-eyed blue B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), and a giant grub-like creature referred to as Insectosaurus. Now dubbed Ginormicus, Susan sadly learns she may never see Derek or the outside world again. But as fate would have it, when an alien invasion led by the overlord Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) threatens the Earth, the monster squad is deputized on orders from the President (Stephen Colbert) with the chance to earn their freedom by saving the planet.
The story for 'Monsters vs. Aliens' is pretty straightforward, but I kind of like it that way. The film takes the bulk of its inspiration from classic 1950s horror films as we can clearly see by the designs of the main characters ('Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,' 'The Fly,' 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon,' 'The Blob,' and 'Godzilla,'), and those films were never really complex to begin with. The writers kept things simple and concentrated on the humorous elements, but were still able to craft a decent storyline with interesting characters and a twist or two some viewers may not see coming. Sometimes, when things get a little hectic it can actually detract from the movie, so I'm glad it worked out this way whether it was intentional or otherwise.
The voice casting was very well done and I thought it was put to much better use than in some of the previous DreamWorks animated films. Witherspoon brings enough sweetness and innocence to Susan that the viewer can care about her and her "big" problem, but the real stars are in the supporting roles. If I was in need of someone who can pull off an intellectual genius, Hugh Laurie ('House M.D.') would have been my first choice, and his Dr. Cockroach also comes with the same megalomaniacial aura as Stewie from 'Family Guy.' While Arnett wouldn't have been on my go-to list, there wasn't anything I disliked about his performance. Sutherland and Colbert also seemed to be reveling in their respective roles, and I'm sure Colbert must've had a heyday playing the President of the United States. The show-stealer is Seth Rogen, though, who perfectly captured the brainless B.O.B. It's hard not to chuckle at his sharp one-liners and contagious laughter, so he helped sell the movie for me.
Oddly enough, the main strength of 'Monsters vs. Aliens' is also probably is its biggest flaw, and that is the usual barrage of pop culture references, which this time strictly adhere to sci-fi themes. The downside to this is that it corners off the playing field, so if some viewers aren't familiar with the genre then many laughs are bound to go right over their heads. For instance, I actually had never seen 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' up until a couple of months ago, so I got the nod to that movie. But if I hadn't, I'd be clueless. Fortunately for me I was able to make most of the connections (although a couple did still slip by me which I discovered later), so I can imagine what it must be like for non-sci-fi fans.
No, 'Monsters vs. Aliens' isn't a perfect film, but it was better than I had expected. I think a bit more character interaction to tug at our heartstrings may have been enough to ignite a magical spark, and depending on the level of the viewer's familiarity with the films being poked at, it will definitely affect the overall experience. As for kids, 'Monsters vs. Aliens' has plenty of color and action to keep them entertained, so like B.O.B. -- picking this release up for them is easily a no-brainer.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount presents 'Monsters vs. Aliens' on a dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray disc. There are actually two different Blu-ray editions: this standard one-disc version and a Blu-ray/DVD combo exclusively available at Target stores. For a couple bucks more, the Target exclusive is obviously the better value, especially for parents who like having an extra DVD copy on hand for their kids. Even though the film was developed specifically for 3D, only a 2D version is provided in this particular release. The U.S. versions of the Blu-ray are reported to be region free and should operate properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
I've come to expect the finest transfers when we're talking CGI animation, and yet every time a new one comes out, most still find some way to blow me away. 'Monsters vs. Aliens' is a prime example, with a stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1 aspect ratio) encode that really can only be described as reference-quality.
First, the colors. Man, these are some of the most bright and vibrant color schemes I've seen on Blu-ray yet. Blacks are also deep and delicious. Contrast is fantastic and dimensionality is solid too. Where the picture truly shines, though, is in the detailing. When we see the close-ups of Susan applying her make-up, the textures in her skin, lips, eyelashes and hair--it all looks so incredibly lifelike it's almost a little spooky. Just as impressive are the less humanly monsters--from the bubbles and reflections in B.O.B., the sleek and shiny scales of Link, to Dr. Cockroach's teeny well-groomed mustache and tinier set of teeth. Even the backgrounds and inanimate objects are given the same level of care. A lot of hard work went into this, and it shows.
I did catch a bit of motion blurring, although it seems to be intentional. Otherwise the image is free of any artifacts, compression noise, and other eyesores. As far as I'm concerned, 'Monsters vs. Aliens' is a visual treat, one of those films where the viewers notice something new upon each viewing.
'Monsters vs. Aliens' boasts a dynamic range that couldn't be any smoother, an open soundstage that couldn't be more spacious, and widespread directionality that effectively transplants the viewer dead center of the action. The looming meteorite is a showstopper when it passes overhead and smacks into poor Susan, as is the epic battle at the Golden Gate Bridge. Every speaker comes to life with clarity and the bass rumbles away for an extremely immersive experience. Despite being a busy track, the vocal recordings remain crisp and are never drowned out by the music or sound effects. Paramount has done a stellar job on this lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and like the video, it just doesn't get much better than this. Demo material for sure.
The disc also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish, as well as optional subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Paramount includes a decent supplemental package that has something for everyone, but when compared to some of the other DreamWorks Animation Blu-ray releases currently available I have to admit I did expect to see a bit more content here. On the plus side, everything is presented in HD where applicable.
'Monsters vs. Aliens' is simple yet effective. The subject matter may not have the broad universal appeal of Pixar releases or even 'Kung Fu Panda,' but as a huge horror/sci-fi geek I still found a lot to love and ended up having a blast. The supplements on this Blu-ray aren't bad (although Paramount, where's the 3D version of the film?), and reference-quality picture and sound certainly sweeten the deal. So if you have kids and/or have a passion for the genres the film is parodying, then 'Monsters vs. Aliens' easily comes with my recommendation.