Monsters vs. Aliens - 3D (Samsung exclusive)Overview -
'Monsters vs. Aliens' is the first full 1080p 3D Blu-ray to hit the market, and it comes included as an exclusive bonus to the Samsung 3D TV starter kit. The big question on people's mind seems to be: Does this new format offer a comparable experience to the new 3D seen in theaters, or will 3D TV and Blu-ray 3D go the way of the dodo? Only time will answer that question but for now, here are a few basics about the new 3D format.
Gone are the days of cheap paper 3D specs that come included with movies. We are now in the era of Active-Shutter technology. Active-Shutter technology works by alternately blocking each eye up to 120 times per second with LCD powered lenses. On the TV screen, there are two images being shown, one for the left eye perspective and one for the right eye perspective. The glasses receive a signal from the 3D TV telling them when to block your left eye so your right eye sees the image intended for it and the same goes for your right eye. This happens so fast that the two images being alternated on the screen are combined by your brain to make one image and form the 3D effect. Very cool stuff! These glasses come at a steep price of around $150 dollars for a battery powered pair and $199 for a rechargeable pair. To date, active shutter glasses only work with the television they were designed for. That means you can't take you Samsung glasses to your friends' house and watch 3D on his Panasonic 3D TV. A solid pair of universal glasses is much needed to make 3D television more accessible, and I'll be shocked if we don't see a pair by the holiday season.
How will movies transfer over to this format? If 'Monsters vs. Aliens' is any indicator, I'd say pretty well, but there are still questions to be answered. As you will read below, this film boasted strong picture but weak audio. That makes me wonder about future releases. How will the 50 gigs of storage on a 3D Blu-ray disc be used? Keep in mind the fact that a lot more disc space is used for a 3D movie. There are two 1080p movies on one disc, double the memory needed for a 2D movie (picture only, not audio). That makes me wonder if the audio will suffer as a result of more limited storage. I think it will be difficult to release a movie like 'Avatar' on one disc given the fact that the 2D version was designed to nearly fill the entire 50 gigs of space!
Speaking of movies like 'Avatar,' how will live action films transfer over to 3D? To date there hasn't been a release of a movie that is not animation, so we'll just have to wait for the release of movies like 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Avatar', and 'Clash of the Titans' to find out. My guess is that, as with 2D Blu-ray, nothing will be able to top a first class CGI animation transfer.
It is also worth noting that in the early stages of 3D Blu-ray, brand exclusive releases seem to be the way things are going. I don't see how this can continue for long, but nevertheless, it's very frustrating to not be able to go out and buy movies like 'Coraline' on 3D Blu-ray because I don't own a Panasonic 3D TV. Bottom line: for the 3D format to grow there has to be more content widely available to everyone.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Ever since Pixar exploded onto the scene with 'Toy Story,' DreamWorks Animation has seemed like the kid brother. DreamWorks has come close to capturing the magic formula, but they just haven't quite reached that Pixar level yet of magic. Enter 'Monsters vs. Aliens'. Personally, I'm a huge fan of any movie featuring a monster destroying a city or an alien force trying to enslave mankind, so DreamWorks' decision to combine the two genres had me intrigued.
The Story centers on Susan, who is voiced perfectly by Reese Witherspoon. Before her wedding, Susan is struck by an alien meteor containing a substance called Quantonium, which is the most powerful substance in the universe. This makes her grow to a monstrous size and forces the government to take action. Susan is taken to a secret government facility overseen by General W.R Monger (Kiefer Sutherland). Along with Susan, the facility houses the four other main characters: B.O.B (Seth Rogan), who is a blue liquid blob with one eye and no brain, Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist whose experiment went wrong and turned him into a Cockroach, a half fish half primate called "the missing link" (Will Arnett), a bit of a tough-guy wannabe, and finally a large moth-like monster called Insectosaurus. The group makes it clear to Susan that she will never leave the prison and see the outside world again. But, when an alien robot sent by the evil alien leader Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) arrives on Earth and wreaks havoc, the Monsters are told to save the world in order to win their freedom.
This is a very straightforward story, with an enjoyable plot. Susan wants nothing more than to go back to being normal so she can see her fiancé Derek (Paul Rudd) again, but you know the bargain, to do that, she must fight aliens and save the Earth from destruction. Along the way she learns that you have to be comfortable with who you are and if people don't accept that, you're better off without them. This is a good lesson for kids to learn, but for someone in his 20s like me, the replay value of this film is pretty low. Nevertheless, I found the movie very enjoyable and appreciated some of the pop culture references tossed in for the parents ('Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' need I say more!)
The voice casting for this film was great. As I said, Reese Witherspoon was perfect as Susan. Seth Rogan also delivered as B.O.B. Other than the main cast, it was nice to see people like Steven Colbert added to the mix as the President of the United States (I'm sure he loved sinking his teeth into that role)! DreamWorks has missed in this area in the past, so it was nice to see them step up with this film.
Overall, I enjoyed 'Monsters vs. Aliens'. It was nice to sit back and watch a simple story with great voice acting, beautiful animation, and solid action. This movie doesn't have the same replay value as Pixar films like 'Up' or 'Finding Nemo,' but let's be honest, that's a tall order for any movie these days. Kids will love this movie, and parents will find it enjoyable for a single viewing. If you're looking for a family popcorn flick, look no further.
'Monsters vs. Aliens' seems to be Samsung's poster boy for their new 3D TVs, playing as demo material in Best Buy stores across the country, and this is with good reason. This new format of full HD 3D makes anaglyph 3D (red and blue filtered glasses) a distant memory comparable to the switch from VHS to Blu-ray. Reviewing HD 3D video quality is challenging at the moment just because there is nothing to judge it against. Having said that, the basics of what makes a great looking picture should not be forgotten.
Starting with the basics, 'Monsters vs. Aliens' comes to Blu-Ray 3D in a 2.34:1-framed transfer from DreamWorks. This is a gorgeous transfer. As with almost all CGI animated films, the colors are spot on and black levels are nearly perfect. The range of color seen in this movie ranks at the top of my list, right next to 'A Bug's Life,' what a treat to look at! As with the 2D release of the film, the image is completely clear of any artifacts. Textures are amazingly detailed, most noticeably in Susan's hair, each individual blade of grass, chips in paint, and the liquid reactions of B.O.B as he moves around. I could go on, but I think it's just as important to focus on the 3D effect.
Now for the category people really want to hear about, the 3D! First off, I want to state that I didn't see this film in 3D during its theatrical run. However, I recently saw 'How to Train your Dragon' in 3D so that will serve as a good reference point to this film. I think it best to start with how well the basics transfer over to HD 3D. Colors seem to spill out of the screen. I was initially worried that the active-shutter glasses would darken the image and take away from the brightness of colors, but happily I did not notice any change. The textures mentioned above transfer extremely well into the HD 3D format. Perhaps the best example of texture in HD 3D comes in some of the close-up shots of Insectosaurus. Amazingly, each hair is visible as it blows in the wind, making you almost think you can reach out and feel them! You also get a real sense of how liquid B.O.B is when he sits in his cell bouncing the ball off the wall and through his body. You will notice every ripple popping out of the screen yet looking just a crisp as they did in 2D. Other details are also great in 3D, such as individual blades of grass blowing in the wind, and the texture of the wood on the rail of the gazebo at the start of the film. The flow of motion was spot on, not differing one bit from the 2D film (though there was a bit of ghosting which you will read about below).
Another added element you get with the HD 3D experience, and for my money, the most welcome, is a much greater sense of depth. You almost feel as if you're standing with Susan outside the church before her wedding or touring the monster prison facility with General Monger. Probably my favorite part of the 3D experience came during the fight on the Golden Gate Bridge. You really notice the added sense of depth delivered by the 3D experience in shots where you can see the giant robot and the water below. Bottom line, if things are far away, they feel far away.
Having said all that, there were a few slight problems with the 3D effect that I noticed. First, there were a few instances of ghosting (images that seem to have a shadow or double image look), most noticeably in some of the darker scenes like when Susan is left in her cell for the first time. Ghosting is probably to be expected with some of the earlier releases in the new 3D format, but on the plus side, it's easy to live with every once in a while. The only other issue I have with the transfer is the background. I feel this is where the CGI animation, at-home 3D differs most from the theatrical 3D experience. I noticed a few times when the background had the proper feel of depth, but the animation was a bit off. It almost seemed as if the background image was struggling to keep up with the foreground image. This is only noticeable if you focus on the background for a while, but it's worth mentioning. This seemed to happen in the brighter scenes with objects far away in the background (trees outside the church in the start of the film).
I would like to take a sidebar and speak for a moment about 3D gimmick shots. Major movie studios, please stop adding gimmicky shots like a dude bouncing a ball directly at the camera. Yes, the ball looks like it's coming out of the screen and at your face but just because you can do it does that mean you must?
'Monsters vs. Aliens is a great start to the Blu-Ray 3D format offering up reference quality 3D picture. There is no doubt in my mind that this form of 3D is vastly superior to the anaglyph 3D experience and stacks up very well with the new theatrical 3D format. Hick-ups such as ghosting and background blur are probably to be expected with new HD 3D, but I see no reason why as the technology matures, studios can't learn to correct these problems.
Oh Boy. This is where things go south a bit for this version of the film. Unlike the 2D Blu-Ray release, which included a lossless HD 5.1 soundtrack, the 3D release only includes a meager Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. If Paramount expects people to pay a premium price for this 3D Blu-ray when it's commercially released they had better step the audio up to the lossless HD 5.1 track it deserves. Having said that, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track included does its job for this movie pretty well. Speech and sounds are very clear and the back speakers got a nice workout a few times, most noticeably during the Golden Gate Bridge fight sequence. Cables were heard snapping all around me, creating an immersive experience to go along with the 3D. I noticed the Audio lacking most in the deeper low-end sounds. Shy of that, this track will do its job but leave you wanting more.
I was really hoping that this film would include some cool supplements, but all it includes is two trailers and a short film. I was hoping for some features on how 3D was used to make this film and enhance the viewing experience or at least a director commentary. Not even the features from the 2D release were included (shy of B.O.B's Big Break). I'm hoping that this will be rectified when the film is commercially released in 3D but for now, here is what you get with this release.
Trailers for 'How to Train your Dragon' and 'Shrek Forever After,' both in full HD 3D. I was very impressed to see that the 'How to Train your Dragon' trailer demonstrated 3D almost identical to that seen in the theater (Though I did notice a few of the same background issues I mentioned in the previous section).
B.O.B's Big Break (3D HD, 13 Min.) – Can't get enough of Dr. Cockroach, Link and B.O.B? You're in luck! This short film shows one of their unsuccessful escape attempts taking place on B.O.B's birthday. I found this very entertaining and was glad to get some more B.O.B action! This short is included in full HD 3D and looks every bit as good as the feature film.
For me, 'Monsters vs. Aliens' was a bit of a letdown. Sure, the 3D looks great and is clearly the best we have ever seen in home viewing, but I expect a lot more out of a movie than just picture quality. The inclusion of an underwhelming Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and far fewer supplements than the 2D release really brings down this release for me. Hopefully when the film is released to everyone these problems will be fixed. For now, the only way to get this movie is to buy the Samsung 3D starter kit.
With the addition of HD audio and more expansive supplements, this movie would be a no brainer, but in its current state, I say wait for a more commercial release aimed at the entire public and not just Samsung owners. Having said that, this is a great glimpse of HD 3D imagery at home, one that has me excited at how great this format can be.
Final advice: Wait for a more commercial release.
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