Saturday, March 21, 2009


By D.E.Levine

Director: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Producers: Lisa Stewart
Co-producers: Jill Hopper Desmarchelier, Latifa Ouaou
Story: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Screenplay: Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky, Rob Lertterman, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Cast Voices: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd, Stephen Colbert
Running Time: 95 Minutes
A Paramount release of DreamWorks Animated presentations
Genre: Animated, 3-D

When I met with Jeffrey Katezenberg of Dreamworks at CES2009 in January, he was excited about the commitment of Dreamworks to 3D for both television and film. I admit I was less enthusiastic since the technology has been around since the 1950s and the snippet that I caught in the last Superman film didn't convince me the technology was worthwhile.

I admit I was wrong since the 3D technology definitely enhances "Monsters vs. Aliens", the first full 3D production of 2009. Described by some as "Monsters, Inc." meets "War of the Worlds", the filmmakers borrow heavily from already existing sci-fi films, pop culture, and their own Dreamworks inventory, especially since Dreamworks partner Steven Spielberg has been associated with some of the greatest sci-fi films ever made.

Prior to the start of the film, a spaceship beams up to the Dreamworks logo where their famed moon-perched boy is seen fishing. From the beginning their are constant and shameless allusions to Star Wars, E.T. , Spaceballs, Dr. Strangelove, Station Zebra, Gulliver's Travels, King Kong, Godzilla and even The Wizard of Oz. There's even a humorous jab at Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' a film about global warming. Although the references may be lost on the younger crowd, the older audience members relate immediately.

While the writers could have developed totally new monsters for this film, they chose instead to fashion their monsters after some of the legendary existing sci-fi creatures. But their monsters are benign and funny instead of being threatening and scary. This changes the thrust of the movie which will never reach the excitement level of the older sci-fi pictures. Even the initial alert is humorous for when a couple of Trekkie techies stationed in Antarctica detect a UFO headed for Modesto, Ca., they issue a "code Nimoy."

Unfortunately, a young lady named Susan, who is getting married in Modesto, is flattened by the UFO out in back of the church, but she still manages to get to the altar on time. Just as she is about to exchange vows with her local TV weatherman fiance Derek, she starts to glow green and grow to enormous proportions. With her Paris honeymoon on hold as her fiance flees, federal forces capture Susan (using techniques reminiscent of Gulliver's Travels) and incarcerate her in a facility run by a general who runs project he describes as "an X-file wrapped in a cover up, deep fried in conspiracy."

At this point Susan still doesn't realize how lucky she is that she was saved from marrying the shallow, self-inflated Derek, and she dedicates herself to actions that will return her to her normal Susan size so she can get married and take that Parisian honeymoon. The viewing audience, of course knows that Derek isn't good enough for Susan and figures there has to be something better in store for her.

At the facility, Susan, now renamed Ginormica, meets a quartet of other detainees, all of whom have suffered freakish accidents that transformed them into monsters with special talents. The brainiest is Dr. Cockroach, a diminutive scientist with a bug's head (think The Fly) who acts as a foil for a giant dim-witted one-eyed blue glob/blob named B.O.B (i.e The Blob). The third monster known as Insectosaurus is a larval entity of indeterminate origin who's seven times larger than Ginorminica (think Mothra) and the fourth member of the quartet is The Missing Link, a humanoid and amphibian fusion (i.e. the Creature From the Black Lagoon). Because the federal government doesn't believe that society can deal with what happened to these five people, they are all kept under lock and key by General W.R. Monger .

The viewing audience is told the back stories for the four monsters Ginormica joins so that they have an understanding of what happened and empathy for these four unfortunate people. The point is made that monsters are people too, just like the ogres in Shrek (a Dreamworks franchise). However, the members of the Monster Squad has been incarcerated for years under life sentences, with no hope for release, and Ginormica joins them under the same conditions and hopelessness.

When the evil alien Galaxhar, who has now lost the material that transformed Susan into Ginormica, sends an alien probe to Earth to retrieve it, the ineffectual and bumbling U.S. President fails to conciliate via the "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" theme. Faced with a seemingly impregnable enemy, their guardian and captor, General Mongor is desperate enough to promise the five monsters their freedom if they defeat the enemy.

Coming home for a visit, accompanied by the other monsters, the perennial cat is out of the bag. Susan, dreaming about getting back to normal size and making a life with Derek, is dumped by the weatherman who's moving on to larger TV venues without her. Since all the men and monsters in the film appear vain and somewhat ridiculous, the action centers around Susan/Ginormica and her realization that she deserves better than what the men in her life have provided up to that point.

Now turned into a female empowerment story with a kid-friendly theme where neither monsters nor aliens can actually die (that would be psychologically damaging to and unpopular with the kids) the movie is humorous and entertaining but doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat. For a change it's not New York City that is destroyed, as the oversized monsters tramp through San Francisco destroying much of the city as they head for a showdown at the Golden Gate Bridge. The 3D effects are eye popping both in the space and the Earth scenes, proving that 3D does add something significant and for small children it's especially entertaining.

After vanquishing the robot probe, Ginormica and her fellow monsters must face its maker, Galaxhar, who arrives with the typical conqueror attitude that if you want something done right (like conquering the Earth), you have to do it yourself. Four-eyed and megalomaniacal, his attitude is just as vain and self-centered as the men and monsters in the story. Galaxhar however, is a force to be reckoned with because he can produce unlimited numbers of identical clones that appear unbeatable.

Another theme appears as we see that despite special talents and female empowerment issues, Galaxhar and his army is unbeatable until the monsters pool their talents and act as a team. Once they form a team confronting and beating their alien enemies is possible.

The film is enjoyable, full of clever quips and references, a humorous feel-good vehicle enhanced by the use of 3D technology and the professional actors and comedians that recorded the voices. It will never be considered a great film because it borrows from too many of its predecessors.