Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

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

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
1.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Monsters vs. Aliens

Street Date:
September 29th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
October 11th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
DreamWorks
Length:
94 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

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.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

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.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'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.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

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.

  • Audio Commentary – The first bonus item is a commentary with Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon along with Producer Lisa Stewart. On a technical front, this track is a solid one with a nice balance of informative production notes and lightheartedness to keep it fun. A fair bit of what is mentioned here is also repeated in the much better Animators' Corner exclusive, however. More on that later.
  • B.O.B.'s Big Break (HD, 13 minutes) – For anyone wanting to see more of Dr. Cockroach, Link, and especially B.O.B., this prequel short highlights one of their many escape attempts from captivity decades before they met Ginormica. Both the 2d and 3D versions are included.
  • Paddle Ball – A 3D-only game that's awkward to play with the remote and becomes forgettable pretty quickly. Still better than nothing I suppose.
  • Karaoke Music Party (HD, 6 minutes) – Three sing-a-long tracks: I Will Survive with Ginormica, More than a Woman with B.O.B., and Born to be Wild with Dr. Cockroach PhD & The Missing Link.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 5 minutes) – This section includes three rough scrapped scenes. 'Monger's Plan' and 'War Room Turns on Monsters' are both in two-dimensional animated storyboard drawing form, while 'If You Don't Know' is a 3D scene with B.O.B. that also shows Seth Rogen in a smaller window at the recording studio.
  • Modern Monster Movie-Making (HD, 17 minutes) – Here we have a traditional "making-of" featurette that takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the film. Interviews with the cast and crew reveal secrets about InTru 3D technology, giving classic monsters a modern makeover, the characters and their quirks, replicating San Francisco, the action sequences, and more.
  • Tech of MVA (HD, 6 minutes) – This featurette also touches on InTru 3D and digs a little into some of the effects such as the difficulties in creating the gelatinous look and movement of B.O.B., but underneath it all this really is just a promotional fluff piece for HP and Intel.
  • DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox (HD, 10 minutes) – A collection of music videos from other DreamWorks Animation films: Kung Fu Fighting ('Kung Fu Panda'), Here Comes the Sun ('Bee Movie'), I'm a Believer ('Shrek'), Dancing with Myself ('Flushed Away'), Rockin' the Suburbs ('Over the Hedge'), and I Like to Move It, Move It ('Madagascar').
  • 3D Glasses – Four pairs of paper green/mauve 3D glasses are included for use with the 3D content.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The Blu-ray edition of 'Monsters vs. Aliens' packs a few exclusives that have become staples among DreamWorks Animation titles.

  • The Animators' Corner – This is an extensive picture-in-picture track that plays in a smaller window during the movie. Some segments feature behind-the-scenes footage of the project's development, concepts, storyboards, cast interviews, and much more. Hands down this is easily the best supplement on the disc.
  • Trivia Track – A pop-up trivia track with a variety of project notes, character tidbits, and other informative fun factoids. It uses classified file folders as a design and is simplistic and slow enough for children, but most of it likely wouldn't appeal all that much to adults. Solution? Just turn this on while listening to the audio commentary.

Easter Eggs

Clicking on "DO NOT PRESS" on the main menu will bring up some trailers and a sneak peek at Shrek: The Musical. A shout out of thanks goes to Joey Robinson for the tip!

Final Thoughts

'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.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

Subtitles/Captions

  • English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Supplements

  • 3D/2D Short: B.O.B.'s Big Break
  • Deleted scenes
  • Filmmakers commentary
  • Featurettes
  • Music videos
  • Karaoke

Exclusive HD Content

  • Animators' Corner picture-in-picture
  • Trivia track

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