Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2009

DreamWorks: Re-Animator

'Monsters vs. Aliens' is decent fun . . . if only it weren't for that annoying 3-D crap

Monsters vs. Aliens
DreamWorks Animation
Director: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Screenplay: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Starring: The voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Stephen Colbert and Rainn Wilson
Opened March 27, 2009
Rated PG / 1 hour, 34 minutes
(out of four)
3-D rating: ZERO stars

Ghosts of Hollywood past take center stage in Monsters vs. Aliens, which is every bit as self-explanatory as it sounds. I say "ghosts" not only because of its stockade of 1950s B-monster-movie archetypes, but for the dead - or at least comatose - 3-D technology that has been inexplicably resurrected for a new generation.

But the powers that be sure have been pimping it - to the extent that it actively alters the artistic process in a detrimental way. Not just the projection - after all, you can still opt for the standard 2-D experience (and I recommend it). But even then, the self-gratifying shots design to needlessly pop out in the audience's face - primarily for the amusement of small children and Jeffrey Katzenberg - are embarrassingly obvious.

In Monsters vs. Aliens, for example, right at the outset we get a shot of someone bouncing a paddle-ball right into our faces. Why? Because. That's why. Because Hollywood has found a new toy to play with - only that's not quite true, either. It's an old toy they found in the basement, now slightly altered, re-packaged, renamed (Intru-3D! REAL-D 3D!) and re-sold. Only it's still the same crappy viewing experience.

Back to that paddle-ball shot. As a friend of mine put it, if someone in real life was bouncing a paddle ball in your face, you'd punch him in the nose. (The expanded version of this scenario, as my friend describes it, yields unsavory results.) Yet there the shot was, serving no purpose but to annoy us. And therein lies the problem. Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks animation, has insisted that all future animation projects from the company will be shot for 3-D. Which means that filmmakers will essentially be forced to play along, throwing in superfluous shots of things flying or rolling or exploding or stabbing in our faces - shots that draw attention to themselves in the most intrusive way possible. This is not the future, folks; this is a fad - once again - and will rightly fade away.

But look at me, I've gotten off track. It's almost as if the 3-D projection process was so distracting that I forgot about the movie. Hmmm.

Monsters vs. Aliens uses the 1950s monster-movie set to create a rag-tag team of reluctant crime fighters in a battle against an alien dictator intent on destroying all life on Earth in search of "quantonium."

We have a Blob-like character, B.O.B. (voiced by Seth Rogen), a gelatin-based organism whose lack of a brain provides some of the film's best comic moments; the Creature from the Black Lagoon-type Missing Link, a bipedal amphibian-like creature (Will Arnett) with delusions of grandeur; the brilliant Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist; and the self-explanatory Insectosaurus.

Most important, of course, is the newest member of the Monster family, Susan (Reese Witherspoon), who was struck by a meteorite on her wedding day and subsequently grew into a 50-foot woman.

Susan - designed in an unabashedly sexual way, first with the wedding dress that tears into a mini-skirt and later with a skintight latex suit - is the key component, as she has to not only accept herself for who she is and help save the planet, but come to terms with her own doomed marriage as well.

The film has fun with its characters' idiosyncracies - taking on a Men in Black-like tone and style - and there's some impressive production design on display. There's a lot of material that could have been done away with, but a lot that works as well. Good DreamWorks may be second-rate Pixar, but that's a pretty high standard, so there's not necessarily any shame in that.

There is shame, however - and you knew I had to come back to this - in the way they're trying to force-feed us Monsters vs. Aliens and others as 3-D movies. But it simply doesn't work. In wide shots, lines are virtually indistinguishable. In action shots, the action is blurry, movement is often impossible to grasp and the figures on screen look practically transparent half the time. Compositions get disfigured, visuals become disorienting, colors get dulled. This is not progress.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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