March 27, 2009
Review - " Monsters vs. Aliens " - (in Theaters) By Roland Hansen
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MONSTERS VS ALIENS
Directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen,
Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Kiefer Sutherland and
IN A GALAXY VERY MUCH LIKE OUR OWN...
For centuries, tales of monsters, creatures and otherworldly beings
have delighted, entertained, terrified, and intrigued people of every
culture throughout the world. The works of literary masters passed
down through the ages eventually made their way to Hollywood and so
was born the "creature feature" and, eventually, the science-fiction flick.
In many a sci-fi movie or television series of the 1950s and '60s, the
genesis of the tale often began with the interception of a strange signal
beamed from a planet in another galaxy, usually underscored by the
requisite spooky organ music. Aliens would then arrive, and either
wallop or teach Earth's inhabitants a thing or two about getting along in
The tale of "Monsters vs. Aliens," however, originates from a few very
earthbound sources - behind the walls of the Glendale, California
campus of DreamWorks Animation with two veteran feature film
directors named Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. The mere mention
of the word 'monster', especially when paired with the word 'alien' ,
customarily lights up the eyes of any filmmaker (like Letterman and
Vernon) who ever spent a Saturday afternoon planted in front of the
television, watching a black-and-white cautionary tale (Don't mess with
Mother Nature! Radioactive fallout renders creatures gigantic!) in the
form of a 1950s 'B' movie.
When California girl Susan Murphy (REESE WITHERSPOON) is unwittingly clobbered by a meteor full of outer space gunk on
her wedding day, She stumbles into the ceremony, where she quickly expands to an unsuitable size — 49 ft. 11½ in., to be
exact. Wearing the incredible elasto-gowns indispensable to expanding humans in family-friendly movies, designed by
fashionista Edna Mode no doubt. The military jumps into action and Susan is captured and is secreted into an Area 51
prison and saddled with the monster moniker Ginormica. Held along with a ragtag group of Monsters: the brilliant but
insect-headed Dr. Cockroach, Ph.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 is cut
short, however, when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins storming the country. In a moment of desperation,
The President (STEPHEN COLBERT) is persuaded to enlist the motley crew of Monsters to combat the alien robot and save
the world from imminent destruction.
Other stars in this out-of-this-world ensemble include
RAINN WILSON as Gallaxhar, the megalomaniac
responsible for the alien robots and looking to replicate
a new world in his own image; KIEFER SUTHERLAND as
General W.R. Monger, an armed forces lifer who's
finally found a use for his collection of detained
Monsters...battling the alien invader; and PAUL
RUDD as Derek Dietl, Susan's selfish fiance, who has
outgrown his current weatherman position and aspires
to network news greatness.
Monsters vs Aliens burst onto the screen this weekend.
Onto it and out of it, for this latest concoction from the
DreamWorks shop is being trumpeted as the first
feature-length animated movie to be conceived as a 3-D
spectacle (not just converted to the format). As such, it's
zazzy and colorful, its creatures no less graphically
plausible for seeming like they're ready to leap into your
lap. Score one on the technical front for DreamWorks in
its long, intense battle with its biggest rival, Pixar.
Hollywood insiders love a fight, and it's almost surprising
that no one has made a movie called Pixar vs
DreamWorks. To say this is simply a 3D movie is selling
it short. The 3D effects are like nothing you've seen
before. A 2D version is also be available but why
bother. I can hear it now, you're saying "Oh sure, I've
seen 3D movies before, big deal." Well maybe you have but trust me you haven't seen anything like this. This will astound
you. The gasps and exclamations of the audience bear me out on this.
To oversimplify with my usual abandon, I'd say that Pixar movies are animated features in the old, elevated Disney style,
and DreamWorks films are flat-out cartoons, proud to be descended from the knockabout traditions of Warner Bros. (Bugs
Bunny) and MGM (Tom and Jerry). You can spot the difference in the kinds of stories each studio favors. Pixar makes
movies about couples — guy-guy in Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars, Ratatouille and this summer's Up; guy-gal in Finding
Nemo and WALL-E — who build a relationship out of initial antagonism and shared need. In other words, buddy stories and
love stories. DreamWorks does workplace comedies about groups, in Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda, both Madagascars and
the later Shreks - Although, to be fair, the original Shrek was both a guy-guy buddy pic and a guy-girl romance (probably why
it won the Oscar).
This is not to say that Pixar movies are inevitably superior to the DreamWorks stuff — though Oscar voters seem to think
so. Eight years ago, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established an award for Best Animated Feature,
DreamWorks got the first one, for Shrek. Since then, Katzenberg's homegrown product has been shut out (the studio
distributed Nick Park's veddy English Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), while Pixar has won four: Finding
Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and WALL-E. "Each year I do one DreamWorks project," actor Jack Black told the crowd
at this year's ceremony, "then I take all the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar." But in the court of public opinion, where
people vote with their money, DreamWorks is the champ: over those eight years, its films have outgrossed Pixar's worldwide.
The usual spit and polish are on display in Monsters vs Aliens, directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. The movie
imagines that in 1950 the government, fearful that the populace would freak out if it knew that monsters actually existed, put a
top-secret plan into effect. General W.R. Monger herded the lot of misfits into X-file confinement. Waiting for Susan are Dr.
Cockroach, the gelatinous B.O.B., the gatory Missing Link, and a huge, grubby, voiceless Insectosaurus. It's another band of
weirdo-heroes to follow the X-Men and Watchmen, with the usual mission: to save Planet Earth, this time from the space-
traveling supervillain Gallaxhar.
Susan's fellow monsters have a feckless charm, but they're all but useless in approaching the job at hand. Susan/Ginormica
does all the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively. The guys are there for what many women think men were put on earth to
provide - comic relief. Outside the core group, the general is your standard-issue blowhard, while the U.S. President, voiced
by Stephen Colbert, is a pompous doofus with little of the appeal of the character Colbert plays on his own show. Add
Susan's clumsily ambitious near husband to this bunch, and the movie is sort of Snow White and the Seven Dorks.
Although it's set in the present day, Monsters vs Aliens functions as a visual encyclopedia of antique pop culture. It assumes
that viewers of all ages are so steeped in the '50s B-movie ethos that they'll laugh familiarly at references to The Fly, The
Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Mothra and the 3-D paddleball effect from House of Wax. And, of course, Attack of the
50 Foot Woman, of which Susan represents the absolutely cutest version. There are also homages paid to many of pop
culture's greatest sci-fi flicks such as , Close Encounters, ET The Extraterrestraial, & Independence Day.
For all the ingenuity in its premise and the ingratiating voice cast, the movie works better as a sci-fi action picture - with some
extraterrestrial vistas that come close to WALL-E's in their palette and precision - than as a comedy. That's understandable.
As the first of its kind, M vs A wants to parade the range of its 3-D effects. It's quite a show, from the intergalactic rock slide
that starts things off to the climactic destruction of the Golden Gate bridge.
The Pixarians, of course, could say they already did monsters in Monsters Inc., aliens in WALL-E and oddball superheroes
in The Incredibles. But the DreamWorkers can be satisfied with having produced another crowd-pleasing, expert-babysitting
vaudeville turn. What's not to like? Who's not to laugh? Skip the flat screen version and go out of your way if you have to in
order to find a 3D showing. I promise you it'll be worth it. Take your kids, borrow or rent some if you don't have any of your
own, and go see "Monsters vs Aliens". They'll love it and so will you.