Film review – Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

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The latest film to boast both state-of-the-art computer animation and 3D effects is Monsters vs. Aliens from Dreamworks. The premise is as simple as its title suggests – when aliens invade earth the government fight back with a bunch of monsters that they have been secretly hiding from the rest of the population. The monsters are all loosely based on classic 1950s horror monsters. There is a giant woman, a giant insect, a mad scientist who has turned himself into a cockroach, a gelatinous blob and a reptile man. The alien invaders and their robotic warriors also evoke 1950s science-fiction classics such as The War of the Worlds, It Came from Outer Space and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The result is a fun blend of action and humour yet the film can only really be described as mildly entertaining.

Monsters vs. Aliens largely suffers from comparisons to other films. The overall animation and storytelling falls way short of the standards set by the Pixar films, especially last year’s WALL·E. Monsters vs. Aliens simply doesn’t generate the same ‘wow factor’ with its animation nor does it endear the characters to the audience to nearly the same extent. The 3D effects are almost redundant, as apart from the occasional gimmicky shot of an object popping out from the scene the 3D is not used to facilitate the visual storytelling techniques. Disney’s Bolt used its 3D animation far more impressively. Finally, while the references to 1950s horror and science fiction films are fun to spot, they are not developed to their full potential. A lot of comedic potential has been missed. Monsters vs. Aliens does contain a few gags based around the clichés commonly associated with the horror and science fiction genres but it falls short of the more clever (and admittedly more adult) satire of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! However, there are notable exceptions including a very funny scene where the USA President (voiced by political satirist Stephen Colbert) attempts to communicate with the aliens by using a keyboard in the style of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Overall Monsters vs. Aliens is still an enjoyable film. There is a great fight scene, filled with inventive carnage, between an alien robot and Susan (the giant woman, who is voiced by Reese Witherspoon). Susan also forms the moral heart of the film and her emotional journey provides a terrific message of empowerment. The cast of monsters are all amusing but Seth Rogen as the voice of B.O.B. provides the majority of the film’s laughs. Rogen’s infectious laugh and loveable dork persona is perfect for the part of a good-natured blob who doesn’t have a brain. B.O.B.’s attempt to chat up a plate of Jell-O (or Jelly for non-Americans) deserves to be recognised as a great cinematic moment of unrequited love.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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