MARCH 21, 2009
What the hell is the difference between "Real3D" and "Tru3D"? I brought my Real glasses from My Bloody Valentine, because I knew that the theater showing Monsters Vs. Aliens used the kind that don't have hinges, which annoys me. But even though both appeared to be the same kind of lenses (that brownish gray, as opposed to red/blue), the Real ones didn't work. And then, of course, I missed the first minute of the movie while I looked around on the floor for my Tru3D pair, which I had discarded.
What DID work, luckily, was the film itself. After a rather slow beginning in which neither Monsters nor Aliens appear for at least 15 minutes, our heroine turns into a giant woman, and the movie begins proper. And before anyone balks at the idea of it not being a horror movie - correct, it's NOT a horror movie in the traditional sense (i.e. scares/violence/gore), but it DOES gain most of its mileage out of referencing horror movies, particularly those from the 1950s. So it is horror fans, not 8 year old kids, that will be enjoying the myriad references to The Fly, The Blob, Them!, etc., and thus in turn enjoying the film as a whole.
I haven't cared much for the Dreamworks CG films so far, like the Shrek films and Shark Tale, because they are overloaded with lame pop culture jokes (many of which are already dated by the time the film is released) and an over-reliance on A-list "vocal talents". Luckily, only one of those is still an issue here - even minor characters are voiced by big names like Renée Zellweger*. It's one thing to give the lead roles to big names; even Pixar/Disney does that and chances are their name is in the ads or posters. But it's distracting when an obviously minor character shows up halfway through the movie with a recognizable voice (and then you spend their whole scene going "oh its... its... shit, I know it..."). Hank Azaria and Dan Castellaneta provide like 90% of the voices on Simpsons; why can't one of the people they've already hired do a "funny" voice for a character with 2 lines?
As for the main cast, they are quite good. Reese Witherspoon is far more tolerable when you're not actually looking at her (cute, yes, but ungodly annoying), and Seth Rogen steals the movie as the brainless blob who can't ever quite process who he is or what is going on (his response to a "if we don't make it out of here alive" type speech is worth the cost of admission alone). Hugh Laurie gets to use his real voice for the first time in ages, which is a nice surprise. The only real weak spots are Kiefer Sutherland and Stephen Colbert as a traditionally war-hungry general and the President, respectively. Nothing against either man (everyone knows I love Colbert almost as much as life itself), but their roles are so generic, and thus so are their lines. I really think it's time to retire the clueless President as a movie character - it hasn't been funny in years. It's one thing to use an obvious Bush stand-in for a quick throwaway joke (i.e. the Ho-Hos in Transformers), it's another to try to make a full blown character out of an overworn cliché. It's kind of sad that I had an easier time believing giant monsters and robots running amok than I did that a man so idiotic could run the country. Even Bush had basic motor skills, and didn't shriek like a girl (a gag even the kids in the audience didn't seem to enjoy).
But back to the pop-culture, for once, Dreamworks has gotten it right. Apart from the occasional line, one could go into this movie without a single shred of trivia floating around their brain and still enjoy it without feeling like they missed the joke. Even the references to the horror/sci-fi films mentioned before are subtle; you probably won't even notice that they are there.
The animation is also quite good. They've come so far in the past ten years when it comes to things like texture and hair detail. There's a running gag: whenever a character describes a latte they get an extreme closeup, and it's amazing how much detail they throw in: stubble, skin blemishes, etc. Spaceships and such also have realistic metal textures; if you ignore the cartoon title characters, the ships look identical to those scene in "live action" space-set films.
As for the 3D, I didn't find that it added to the experience as much as other recent films like Coraline. There are a couple of "in your face!" gags, and a key action sequence around halfway through the movie was much more exciting with the immersion, but otherwise I wouldn't bother dealing with the higher costs (and probably more sold out viewings); the movie's charms lie in the humor and story, not the gee-whiz appeal of the technology. Of course, the IMAX screen is desirable for the big action scenes, but again - not enough to justify the 2 or 3 dollar ticket increase (x number of family members).
Like the other DW films, it doesn't hold a candle to Pixar's best, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Like Igor, it's nice to see these movies finding a new way to appeal to multiple generations and tastes (i.e. genre fans), and the lack of "timely" jokes will ensure that it will remain a favorite for future generations, while the Shark Tales of the world become irrelevant due to their reliance on jokes that won't mean anything to anyone born after their release date.
What say you?
*Two movies in a row with an actress named Renée. Just sayin'.