Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009) dir. Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Voices by: Reece Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Will Arnett, Stephen Colbert
By Alan Bacchus
I recently watched Shane Acker’s ‘9’ the first American feature film to tell a story outside of the Pixar aesthetic which seems to have held computer animation hostage. Ever since 'Toy Story' I've been waiting for a Hollywood filmmaker to use the medium for something other than family-friendly talking-animal Randy Newman-scored cookie cutter films. Sure, 'Up', 'Wall-E' and 'Madagascar' etc are fun and clever and even well written movies, but with seemingly endless technological possibilities these movies are all so remarkably similar.
‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ is one such film. If it were made ten years ago we might find interest in the stunning and vibrant visuals created by the computer graphic technology and forgive the film’s vacuous plotting and even more vacuous characters. Throwing a bunch of b-movie monsters into a single movie to battle it out with space aliens is a wonderful premise. Unfortunately ‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’ never even attempts to capture the tone and flavour of the b-movie experience, thus rendering the film flat and for kids only.
To open the picture young Susan Murphy (Reece Witherspoon) is about to get married when an alien ship falls to earth, releasing some toxic gas which causes her to grow into a giant woman. Immediate some kind of secret task force which had been monitoring the activity descends on Susan, ties her up like Gulliver and takes her away.
She wakes up in a secret government laboratory housing a number of other mutated monsters captured by the Feds over the past 50 years. There’s B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), an affable blue blob cyclops creature, Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a former scientist who accidentally turned himself into a half insect-half man hybrid, Missing Link (Will Arnett), a scary reptilian creature and Insectosaurus, a giant lumbering moth creature. When an alien invasion threatens the earth the blockhead American military leaders have to unleash their monster captives to save the day.
The film relies solely on pop culture reference for its jokes and most of them are obvious and well-trodden sci-fi gags - the musical tones used for communication in 'Close Encounters', ET phone home, and even the Vulcan greeting from Star Trek for instance. In fact the entire premise plays on the famous b-movie monsters of 50’s – Susan as the 50th Foot Woman, Insectasaurus who mutated from late 40’s nuclear fallout is a disguised Mothra, B.O.B. is like the animate ooze from ‘The Blob’ and Dr. Cockroach’s man/insect hybrid is from ‘The Fly’. Only genre cinephiles will likely catch the direct references, but most people should subliminally get the joke.
Even the look of the monsters and robots are familiar recycled designs from ‘Monsters Inc’, 'Toy Story', 'The Incredibles'. Most of the supporting characters spew played out stereotyped personalities, the idiot president, the bombastic square jawed military general, science geeks who first discover the aliens, the Dr. Strangelove war room set. The filmmakers didn't seem to watch and learn why 'Mars Attacks' didn't succeed. These references are supposed to be the fun Easter eggs peppered in between plotting of the core story and character development - a strategy which worked with the Dreamworks’ Shrek franchise but fails here.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.