Judge Patrick Bromley is not an Elephant Man!
There's a great story from back when Joe Dante was making Gremlins in 1984. Some of the studio execs at Warner Bros. were taking issue with the amount of screen time Dante had given over to the mischievous green monsters referenced in the title. They vented these concerns to producer Steven Spielberg, who simply replied: "Would you rather we just call the movie 'People?'"
Watching Gareth Edwards' 2010 low-budget sci-fi film Monsters, I was reminded of this story. His movie should have been called People. Taking place after giant alien monsters have ravaged the Mexican-American border and most of Mexico is under quarantine, Monsters follows photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy, Herbie: Fully Loaded) and rich girl Samantha (Whitney Able, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), who attempt to make their way back the U.S. together despite the efforts of the military and government to stop them. Oh, and all the monsters. That's pretty much the whole plot of the movie, which more about these characters getting to know one another under some intensely bad circumstances and what their plight teaches them about their own lives.
On paper, I should love Monsters. It's just the kind of bold idea for which I'm a sucker: a monster invasion movie that takes place after the invasion and which really doesn't even show any monsters. I'm on board. Monsters would suggest, however, that while that kind of twist on the genre may sound great in theory, it's considerably more difficult to pull off in practice. That's not to say that Monsters isn't interesting. It is. The two leads are likable enough and have strong enough chemistry that we're willing to follow them (kind of like Before Sunrise is Vienna was infested with aliens), and much of the outdoor photography is beautiful and naturalistic. What Monsters doesn't really do, however, is differentiate itself from other walking-and-talking movies—this despite its novel and ingenious premise. I like its humanistic approach, just sticking with these two people and actually getting to know them, but it often feels like that could have been the movie with or without the looming threat of monsters or alien infection or a trigger-happy military presence. The one thing fails to really comment on the other.
Monsters looks very good on Blu-ray. Magnet's release offers the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in an AVC-encoded, full 1080p HD transfer. Shot on the cheap with mostly available light, the movie looks surprisingly warm and film-like, with mostly strong detail and natural colors. Some issues arise during the movie's nighttime sequences, but nothing that distracts from the movie. The 7.1 DTS-HD audio track might seem like overkill given the demands of the film, but it's a deceptively layered and impressive track. While the majority of the dialogue is clear and easy to understand (where it isn't seems to be intentional on the part of Edwards), there's a lot of ambient detail to be found in the surrounding channels that makes Monsters feel like an immersive experience. And, when the big beasts actually do show up, the low end is given a workout and the track offers an appropriate amount of menace.
The disc delivers in the special features department, too, with a healthy supplemental section that should please fans and even pique the interest of those who appreciate the film more casually. Edwards and the two stars supply a commentary track in which they reveal a lot about how the film was made and what kind of budgetary shortcuts they took to get it to the screen; would-be independent filmmakers will especially want to give this a listen. There are 20 minutes of deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes piece that runs over an hour, a brief EPK featurette ("HD Net: A Look at Monsters), over an hour of additional interviews with Edwards, McNairy and Able and a short piece with Edwards at Comic-Con. Two additional featurettes are perhaps the best bonus features: the first, "Visual Effects," focuses on how Edwards achieved the film's special effects on a low budget, while the second, "Monsters: The Edit," finds editor Colin Goudie discussing how he pieced the movie together from hours and hours of shapeless, improvised dialogue. That the movie works as well as it does is almost entirely a testament to him. A digital copy of the movie has also been included.
This is such a tough one. There's so much to like about Monsters, even though I'm still not yet sure the movie completely works. Those that don't like it are likely to write it off as a mash-up of Cloverfield and District 9. They wouldn't be entirely wrong. But Monsters has more on its mind than just riffing on past sci-fi movies, even if director Gareth Edwards doesn't always deliver on his intentions. Ultimately, the movie exists somewhere between problematic success and interesting failure.
Not entirely successful, but worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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