Monsters vs Aliens (US, 2009)

Invasion of the '50s

Invasion of the '50s

This postmodern (all the monsters are from ’50s SF movies) concoction has some interesting visuals and shedloads of limp gags (one or two are OK) and a terrible ‘girl finds career-minded fiance is not worth it’ sub plot. I saw the film at the National Media Museum’s IMAX (Bradford, UK) in 3D; the first 3D film I saw was The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – not when it came out! – and the 3D technology has certainly moved on from then.

Mr Right?

Mr Right?

However the reasons behind Hollywood increasingly using 3D are the same: competition from other media. Although the North American box office take has remained stable in recent years the number of tickets sold are in decline and the days when DVD was a cash cow appear to be over unless consumers decide they must have Blu-Ray. So far, it seems, that cinema-goers are happy to pay a premuim for the dubious delights of 3D; James Cameron’s Avatar, slated for release at the end of the year, will be an interesting test-case as to 3D’s immediate future.

My experience of 3D, in both films, has been that you soon get used to it so after a few moments of ‘wow!’ the eye adjusts to the new perspective and so it becomes very similar to perspective in standard films. It could be that the urge to duck, as a tennis ball approaches your headi(n the Independence Day (1996) pastiche that starts Monsters) mimics the Early Cinema audience allegedly legging it out of the way from the Lumieres’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896) but the effect is short lived. As a ‘Cinema of Attraction’ 3D must do more than make us flinch for a few moments.

'Get back in the kitchen!'

'Get back in the kitchen!'

Unfortunately Monsters vs Aliens offers very little other than an attractive looking film. The subversiveness of the Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958) is wholly absent; the satire of the (non) macho President is wholly hackneyed….

Technology unbound

Technology unbound

… and the Godzilla (Gojira, Japan, 1954) stand-in is wholly anodyne; in fact I can’t think of a less characterised character. UPDATE: I got this one wrong, Kim Newman says (in the June issue of Sight and Sound) it’s Mothra from the 1961 film of that name.

The other two monsters are from The Fly and The Blob (both 1958). I don’t know where the alien comes from (comments please!) but it is very similar to those in Mars Attacks! (1996) which were based on bubble gum cards. The alien is a terrific-looking creation, well characterised with marvellous sound effects.

From a cineaste’s point of view, 3D is just not very interesting. Far more engaging is the use of deep focus where the relationship between fore and background are dramatically intertwined and so give us an emotional jolt and not the saccherine satisfaction of 3D in this film.

2 Responses

  1. I just believe that at this present time 3D is too commerical, when 3d becomes a lot cheaper we’ll start getting a lot of unqiue experimentation using the technique. I feel that there are a lot of unique directors out there that will really bring the format onto another level. I dont think for one moment Avatar will revolutionalise 3D, all it’ll be will be an over the top super heavy effects movie. I think films like Coraline (coming soon, seen clips in 3D and looks amazing) and Pixars UP will really help 3D more than Avatar (which will just be one big 3D Gag) but 3D won’t be widely exepted until some more independent film makers get their hands on it.

    The problem with Monsters VS Aliens isn’t the 3D, i saw it in RealD at Cineworkd, which is a more advanced more sopsticated method of 3D and it isn’t the effects work thats the problem, Its that the story simply isn’t well done. I like b-movie’s like Earth Vs The Flying Saucers for their low budget-ness but MVA isn’t so bad its good, its just bad. It also trys to be a little like Mars Attacks but the difference is that Tim Burton actually respects these old b-movies on an artistic level, There is a great interview with Him and Ray Harryhousen on the blu-ray (and on youtube) that just shows how much Tim Burton loves these old b-movies on more than one level, Dreamworks have attempted this but failed misirably, Its quite good for younger kids (around 1 – 9) but it doesn’ t really have the appeal of a Pixar or Studio Ghibli animated feature which the whole family can see and fully enjoy.

    Final Verdict: Rent Mars Attacks and Earth vs the Flying Saucers to see some real alien invasion action.

    • I agree that Coraline is likely to be far more interesting than Avatar, however in industry terms the success – or otherwise – of Avatar will be far more significant.

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