Apr 3, 2009

Monsters Vs Aliens [3D] [PG]

Dir: Rob Letterman / Conrad Vernon
What could you possibly need to know about the story of this movie that isn’t covered in more than adequate detail by its title?

We keep being promised a 3D revolution; we keep being told that this, soon, will be the way that most movies are made. I hope these predictions are wrong. This is because 3D doesn’t yet completely work at a pure technical level, it’s perhaps 50 percent there in Monsters Vs Aliens, with depth effects working fine, but just about everything else presenting problems of varying degrees of seriousness. Perhaps the most disappointing problem is that with the effects that appear to come out of the screen at us; firstly they are all blurry, indistinct and unconvincing, but more distracting is the fact that when the camera goes in closer characters that have appeared to be free floating and gets to the point at which their whole body is no longer in shot they appear, disconcertingly, to snap back into the screen. The blurriness is also a problem on fast motion (be it the camera or the characters that are moving), which is a horrible problem in a movie with so many action set pieces as this one has. Lastly the ghosting that has so far dogged 3D movies isn’t as pronounced here as it has been, but when it shows up (mainly in close ups) it is awful, and extremely distracting. Now, this may all be due to my very strong glasses, but even so, shouldn’t any new development in the visual side of cinema be something that will be accessible to all sighted cinemagoers?

Aside from the technical issues Monsters Vs Aliens is a pretty decent film. It’s an affectionate homage to the sci-fi movies of the 1950’s and 60’s, with a bit of a riff on Dr Strangelove thrown in for good measure. The design is uniformly excellent; the models for all the leading characters are appealing, expressive and versatile. BOB (Seth Rogen) is a particular triumph for the animators, as they manage to give a blob of blue goo real expression and character. The vocal work, in the main, is more than a match for the design. As Susan, who on her wedding day is struck by a meteor and becomes Ginormica, Reese Witherspoon is as appealing as she’s been in an age, and even manages to bring a small measure of depth to her character. Hugh Laurie never seems to quite decide if he’s going with a Germanic accent or his regular British, but is otherwise fun as Doctor Cockroach. Keifer Sutherland is appropriately full of bluster as General WR Monger and Steve Carrell is decent in a brief cameo as the President (“I was brave, I’m a brave President”). Seth Rogen steals the show though, as the literally brainless BOB, he’s easily the most reliable source of laughter, scoring with just about every line, particularly those about Susan’s boyfriend Derek. Only Will Arnett really lets the side down, there’s little to be made of his character a Creature From The Black Lagoon type called The Missing Link, but he doesn’t really do anything with what’s there.

For the most part Monsters Vs Aliens is pretty funny, and though it’s pitched at younger kids there is a nice balance struck between gags for them and gags for the adults in the audience. There is also a pleasing resistance to the use of that oldest of kid movie crutches - the fart joke. A few gags overrun a bit (notably one with the President, which starts off with a nice Close Encounters nod, but then labours a point), but otherwise my funnybone got as good a workout as its had in a while.

The only major problem with Monsters Vs Aliens at a story level is that, funny though it is, it fails to really engage at any other level. We’ve been spoiled by Pixar really, they’ve showed that CGI animation can make us breathless with laughter and then, the next moment, have us reaching for the tissues. Monsters Vs Aliens never engages the heart or the brain. It’s, technical problems and all, a good half term time passer, and if you’re going to see it at all do so at the cinema, because the 3D won't work at home, but it’s nothing particularly unmissable.

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