Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Great Early Review of MONSTERS VS. ALIENS 3D

From, written by Capone:

"One of the biggest corners of my heart is held in reserve for old (usually black-and-white) sci-fi films. I'm talking ginormous man-in-suit monsters, slow-moving aliens with tentacles and either one or 50 eyes, or regular-sized animals that are made to look humongous as they ize poor citizens like us. Watch any of them repeatedly and you notice one thing almost without fail: they are about 85 percent chatter and 15 percent actual creature feature…if you were lucky. The philosophies and theories bandied about were pretty hilarious, and were usually just an excuse to keep the cameras rolling to get that running time to at least 75 minutes. Now imagine taking the best parts of these alien invasion flicks, these giant spider films, these creeping menace pictures, and these home-grown mutated abominations of nature movies and tossing them all into one big 3-D animated work, and you have some idea of just how much fun Monsters vs. Aliens was for me.

In a way, you could look at Monsters vs. Aliens as the ultimate superhero team movie. A colossal alien robot lands on earth carrying a message from one Gallaxhar (voiced with pure maniacal splendor by Rainn Wilson), who tells the President of the United States (the inspired casting of Stephen Colbert in this role is enough to recommend it) that he's essentially going to destroy the world. Fair enough. In his very Dr. Strangelove-like War Room, the President listens to his advisors list the options on how to handle this situation. But only Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland, complete with gravelly Southern accent) has a solution that seems like it might work--to unleash a group of captured 'monsters' that the government has hidden in a secret facility on the alien invader in exchange for their freedom.

The film actually opens with a wedding. Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is about to wed weatherman Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd). But just before the wedding, a meteorite falls from the sky and lands on Susan. She miraculously survives, but during the ceremony she grows to 49-feet 11.5-inches tall (I guess rounding up would have been a copyright violation). Her cowardly husband-to-be leaves her at the alter--actually she destroys the church, so the alter is pretty much kindling at this point--and Susan is quickly ed up by Monger's team and she's placed in a giant holding cell.

So who makes up the world's only defense against alien destruction? Seth Rogen voices B.O.B., a gelatinous creature who has no brain and is virtually indestructible; Hugh Laurie is the mad scientist Dr. Cockroach Ph.D., a play off of The Fly; Will Arnett is the cocky Missing Link, a big of a cross between The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Bigfoot; and an oversized slug/caterpillar thing called Insectasaurus. Susan is given the code name Ginormica, and the team sets off to deal with the powerful alien robot.

There's no doubt in my mind that B.O.B. is going to be the fan favorite of the bunch. Aside from being just plain funny, B.O.B. is basically the stoner creature--he's easily distracted, giggles at everything, and, you know, he's a blob of a guy. It's great to hear Laurie's British accent return to add a bit of gravitas to Cockroach's ravings. And although Witherspoon basically sounds like herself, she has the toughest job. She's our entry point into this story and these characters. She's scared, has no idea exactly what the limits of her powers are, and she called upon to perform this weighty task at a time in her life when the bride-to-be Susan didn't now what direction her life was going to take after getting married. I've heard the complaint often that there are no strong female lead characters in animated films anymore (Coraline aside). Complain no more--Susan is your , ur, woman. And she fills out a nearly 50-ft. black jumpsuit rather nicely.

One of the fun things about the film is also that there are guest voices tucked away in some very small roles. Listen carefully for the likes of Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, Renee Zellweger, and John Krasinski. No joking, some of these people have one or two lines tops. But the best thing about Monsters vs. Aliens is that it takes its cues from science fiction films of old. Gallaxhar isn't some play one particular alien from another film; he's every alien enemy rolled into one. These are details in the camera work, the music, and the story that you will absolutely love if you have an affection for these types of classic genre works.

And I haven't even talked about the unbelievable 3-D. I've seen a lot of 3-D in recent months, but this has got to be the best 3-D I've seen in an animated film. There's something about having the giant creatures interacting with smaller people that makes the 3-D pop off the screen, and without tossing stuff at the camera every five minutes. There's a scale and depth to this 3-D work that is unrivaled. One of the sequences the crowd at BNAT X saw was a fight scene on the Golden Gate Bridge. Holy crap, that is the absolute best scene in the movie. And seeing it a second time in the context of the completed film, I was even more impressed with it. Your jaw will collect bugs from being open for so long.

Now please understand, this movie is rated PG, which means it's aimed directly at the younger sect. But honestly, I had as much fun watching this as the kids in my audience. And being able to understand the clandestine humor and the sight gags and more overt stuff, I may have even enjoyed it a little more than the youngsters. Co-director (along with Rob Letterman) Conrad Vernon was also a director on Shrek 2, probably the best melding of evergreen jokes, modern references, and innuendo in a animated work allegedly more for children. He knows where all the lines are drawn and exactly how far over them he can put his big toe. Sure the film is sweet and charming most of the time, but it's when things get a little ornery and mischievous that things really start to cook. There's a devilish undercurrent that props Monsters vs. Aliens up and makes it something special. In case you couldn't tell, I had a blast watching this movie."

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