12-year-old Conor O’Malley’s (Lewis MacDougall) life has taken a dark turn. His mother (Felicity Jones) has taken ill; he now lives with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who is less than sympathetic; and he is tortured by bullies at school. The only thing Conor can turn to is his artwork, which creates a world for him to escape. Late at night, Conor unexpectedly conjures a 40-foot-high monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who comes every evening to tell him stories. It is through these stories that Conor learns to see the world in a completely different way in this visually-spectacular film from director J.A. Bayona.
Never thought I would actually cry in a film where Liam Neeson played a giant talking tree, but I did with A Monster Calls. Filmmaker J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) adapts Patrick Ness' novel of the same name to the big screen in an emotional and fantastical way. While on the surface, the story looks to be about a giant, walking, talking monster-tree, talking to a young kid, beneath the surface are deep thoughts and emotions of loss, grief, growing up, and love.
I didn't think this film would hit me in such an affecting way, but with its top-notch script and brilliant performances, A Monster Calls is a surprising well-rounded movie. The movie focuses on a young boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall), who is having a rough go at life. With his mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones of Rogue One) is battling cancer, he is forced to live with his grandmother Mrs. Clayton (Sigourney Weaver), who isn't exactly kid-friendly. When not dealing with that, he is bullied at school. Needless to say, Conor is not the happiest of kids.
When all seems lost for Conor, a large walking, talking tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears at his window and tells Conor a series of fantastical stories to make Conor happier. These stories -- with themes of loss, love, respect, and grief, all which pertain to young Conor -- are told in a beautiful animated fashion with gorgeous visuals as Liam Neeson narrates. As the story goes on, we see Conor confront his inner demons in an emotional way with excellent messages of how to accept and move on from the tough times.
With top-notch, tear-inducing performances to boot, A Monster Calls is one of those surprise films that hits every emotional note perfectly with beautiful visuals, excellent performances, and one cool talking tree-monster.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Monster Calls comes courtesy of Focus Features with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc that is Region A locked. There is also a DVD and an insert for a digital download. The discs are housed in a hard, blue plastic cast with a cardboard sleeve.
A Monster Calls comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The look of the film isn't exactly pop-off-your screen bright and boastful, although there are some instances where greens and blues look radiant. Other than that, the film has a warm and rusty look, with tons of antiqued browns, oranges, and some reds.
This isn't a transfer issue, but rather from the source of the film. The animated sequences are rich and bold, and look excellent in each of their scenes. Detail is sharp and vivid throughout with closeups that show every burning ember flying off the tree monsters head, every twig, and every individual hair on the actor's heads. Wardrobe looks great as well, revealing the fine stitching. Wider shots never go soft either, other than some of the heavier CGI shots, but it's nothing to write home about.
Black levels are deep and inky for the most part and skin tones are natural. There is also a fairy tale aspect to the look of the film, where it doesn't look over digitized, but rather filmic, which gives the image some depth. There were no major issues with any compression related problems here, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and sounds great from start to finish. The low end that brings the bass is forceful and packs a good punch every time the monster tree takes a giant step or talks in that deep Liam Neeson voice without going into rocky territory. Sound effects are robust and loud throughout with some great directionality.
In terms of fine details, listen for movements of the tree monster's branches when Conor destroys all of the items. Ambient noises of people talking in the cafeteria and winds blowing outside sound excellent too in the rear speakers. The score always adds to the emotion and tone of the film while the dialogue is always clear and easy to follow without any pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills.
Audio Commentary #1 - This is a Spanish spoken audio commentary with filmmaker J.A. Bayona with English subtitles for the commentary track. Bayona talks about casting the film, the themes and characters in detail, how the project became to be, and some technical aspects of the shoot. He leaves almost nothing up to the audience to figure out, as he talks about the reasons for everything here.
Audio Commentary #2 - The author of the book/writer of the screenplay Patrick Ness delivers an English speaking commentary track, where he discusses how he thought up the story, how he wrote it and adapted it to the screen, and his work on the film.
The Making of A Monster Calls (HD, 21 Mins.) - There are five different sections here that have the cast and crew discussing the story, the themes, casting the movie, working with the filmmaker, and how they brought the tree monster to life. This is more EPK type of material, but decent none-the-less.
Making of the Tales (HD, 9 Mins.) - This shows the animatics and computer effects in raw form for each animated story in the film as the music of the film plays. There are no interviews or words spoken here.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 Mins.) - There are five deleted scenes in total, consisting of Conor, and his father, his mother, grandmother, and a classmate at school. None of which add anything significant to the story.
Trailers (HD, 14 Mins.) - Trailers for other films from Focus Features.
A Monster Calls is an excellent film that is well executed on every level. This evoked some strong emotions about loss, trust, love, and grief that turned on the waterworks. The performances are top notch and the visual effects are not bad either. The video and audio presentations are both excellent and the extras are informative, but not that entertaining. Still, this film comes Highly Recommended!