Monster House Blu-ray Review
PictureWith a full 1080p MPEG-2 transfer, this BD release of Monster House looks more than decent. The 2.40:1 image fills the screen with colour and detail, bringing the film to a gloriously sharp definition. The makers added a fine, filmic grain to the image for their own stylistic reasons, which is fair play, I suppose - but, personally, I don't like it because it denies the film that vibrancy that you expect from a CG animated flick. Consequently, surfaces can look a little dull and flat. Faces don't have that gleam that you would normally associate with this type of material, but the environments more than make up for this with solid, pixel-packed definition, accurate presentation of the wonderful lighting used in the film and a sense of solidity that lends the picture a reassuring robustness.
Colours are excellently reproduced with a strength and depth that is rewarding. The fiery reds that burn in the basement of the House and, more excitingly, the enticing red of Bones' kite which is seen against a dark background and casting an eerie glow of its own, are lustrous, bright and well-defined. There is a lot of attention lavished upon the demonic greens that emanate from certain areas of the House and these look rich and gaudy and ectoplasmically bright. The yellow shine of the window-eyes can be spookily sharp, too. The black levels are spectacular - the scenes with the kids actually inside the House feature solid swathes of shadow so deep that you could drown in them. The detail on offer is good, with skin textures revealed, wood-grain in the panels and floorboards held up for scrutiny and individual blades of grass upright and gleaming. Don't go expecting anything to truly leap out at you, though, for as good as the high-resolution is, the film just isn't that polished. But the scenes set within its haunted walls are certainly the highlights of the show, with enough visual information scattered about the image to keep the peepers occupied. The discoveries made in the basement and the spike-fringed orifices that open and close in the floors are awesomely intricate and attentively captured.
The three-dimensionality of Monster House as evidenced by this Blu-ray transfer is not quite what I'd hoped for, however. There is a nice depth of field to the image but it doesn't project its details with the kind of acute sharpness that a full-on CG movie could, and should, achieve. To my mind - and, more importantly, my eye - the grain, intentional as it may be, is the main culprit for this, because it seems to deny the picture a lot of edge definition and relief. But, having said that, the film's cinematic quality is very much in evidence with a transfer that follows the pivots and turns of the camera with ease, fluidity and consistency. I had no problems with edge enhancement, picture noise or smearing though, folks. But I should point out that I did encounter one or two issues with my UK check-disc. Firstly, there were numerous contrast fluctuations that, whilst only subtle, were still noticeable. And, secondly, during the final battle with the House, the dark blue night sky exhibited a thick slice of horizontal colour banding that glared out quite dramatically. Now, I have had the chance to play a friend's American BD copy of the movie on my equipment and both of these elements were not present, so I am hoping that this slight visual discrepancy is limited to my check disc and not the actual retail version of the film.
SoundAny slight misgivings I may have had regarding the picture quality, the PCM Uncompressed 5.1 soundmix on offer with Monster House more than delivers the goods. With bone-shuddering LFE that shakes the very foundations and glorious high-ends that ensure a crystal clear delivery of voices, music and screams, the film comes alive with thunderous and immersive success. The track certainly has a lot going on within its comprehensive sound design. Flick from the DD 5.1 option and the PCM and the differences are immediately apparent with greater volume, warmth, directionality and clarity oozing from the uncompressed track.
From the fantastic ambient effects of the wind whistling all around the full set-up, the rustle of fallen autumn leaves and the well-positioned and natural sound of vehicles, voices and creaking wood to the all-out assault of the House attacks, the barnstorming score and the intensely realised chaos of a building uprooting itself and lumbering across the ground, the PCM just about blows every other soundtrack I've yet heard on either HD or Blu-ray out of the water. With power, delicacy, finesse and a sharpness that can shred the air inside your ears, Monster House is pure reference material. Bass levels are astoundingly deep, featuring some utterly floor-and gut-rumbling moments of pure sub-heaven. The big set-pieces obviously reflect all of this sizeable LFE with paralysing aggression - such as the hellish inferno that strikes up within the House when Nebbercracker has been whisked away in the ambulance and the building site frenzy during the climax - but there are so many smaller impacts to relish too - the dropping of a plant-pot, the low and distant groanings of the House heard from over the street, the sound of the demonic shadow that creeps across DJ's bedroom floor and the surprisingly subtle bass-backup rendered whenever various objects are dragged beneath the ground.
Listen to the window-pane cracking with ultra-sharp distinction, the sliding of the rocks down a slope, the ringing of a phone across a quiet street or Jenny's continual pressing of the doorbell for amazing examples of the carriage and echo of individual sounds across the sonic environment. But one awesome moment is when Jenny is sucked into a rogue pipe front and centre and her voice, alongside some grotesque rumbling and metal shrieking roars across into the right speaker, then spears right back into, seemingly, the middle of the room and then go on to swoop over your head and then swirl out of the rear right. It's very quick, but brilliant stuff and engineered to perfection. And voices never suffer amidst all this bombast, remaining perfectly clear and marvellously steered at all times.
I've heard some truly outstanding tracks lately on this format, but Monster House is the best one yet. This time there are no half-points, folks - definitely 10 out of 10. A solid full-system workout.
ExtrasThis BD-25 release features quite a few extras. The first up is the Commentary from the filmmakers. Although quite good and providing a decent-enough resume of the production, its genesis and a lot of the thoughts and ideas that went into it, the chat suffers from having quite a few participants who are all recorded separately and, sadly, proceed with their anecdotes and reminiscences without being identified. Well, apart from the director, that is, who does introduce himself. Kenan does make mention of the comic-book spin-off from the movie and also brings up a few elements of backstory that hadn't quite made it into the finished version. There is nice talk of a “monster learning curve” and the director also confesses his fascination for wooden floorboards and planks and the services that they seem to supply fledgling animators.
Next up is a series of small featuettes that come under the banner of Inside Monster House. With a Play All option this runs for 24.33 mins and covers quiet a bit of ground from the initial ideas for the story, the casting of the roles and a huge chunk devoted to the motion capture process and then on to the animation work done by Sony Imageworks. To be honest, despite the usual run of back-slapping and “how thrilled we are” stories from all concerned, this is quite an enjoyable collection of titbits. For a start it is nice to see a lot a time centred around the actors cavorting around in dot-to-dot suits. Although we've seen all this before - and usually with the likes of Andy Serkis in the silly suit - it is good to get the cast's reactions to it all and to see the bizarre and barren wire-cage sets and props that they have to act in and around. There's also a cool section detailing just how the awesome “voice” of the House was achieved. Not just Kathleen Turner, folks - the makers miked up an entire house and recorded its death-throes as the building was torn down to help create the guttural rage of the possessed abode.
Then we are treated to another rather familiar feature called Evolution Of A Scene - Eliza vs Nebbercracker. This utilises a multi-angle function to cycle through the various stages of the animation process that went into creating the opening sequence in which the little girl on the tricycle, Eliza, follows the falling leaf and inevitably comes into contact with Nebbercracker. Nothing really new to be discovered here, but still nice to see.
The Art Of Monster House is perhaps my favourite of the extras. This has three galleries - Concept Art, People and Place And Things. To be found here are the simply beautiful conceptual paintings that helped shape the finished movie. Covering the entire story and even revealing a few scenes that didn't make the finished cut, these illustrations are gorgeously colourful, highly stylised and eminently atmospheric. Well worth a good perusal. There are even some photos of the clay maquettes that were made to 3D render the characters to aid in their animation.
And the last extra to be found on this BD release are the Trailers for Open Season (which is a pure Shrek rip-off), RV and Zoom.
Another thing worth mentioning is the excellent and superbly atmospheric menu screen which, if left static (ie, not its seamless pop-up version) will employ the impatient House to roar out at you amidst lots of spooky sound effects. Overall, this is not a bad little selection to help bolster the release.
VerdictA visually captivating movie that simply demands a glorious transfer. And it almost gets one. This disc offers truly sublime colours that paint the screen with top-notch eye candy from start from to finish, though the image is, perhaps, not best aided by the intentional grain. And, of course, the PCM Uncompressed sound is truly awesome. But, of course, all of this would just be set-dressing if it wasn't for the terrific film that the AV quality decorates. Dark and slightly subversive, Monster House pushes all the right buttons and works as a great little homage to a lot of wonderful genre directors and some of their classic movies.
The extras possibly don't warrant a return visit, but they are informative and enjoyable, all the same ... and, at least, this BD release has got some. All in all, this is a monstrous treat and comes very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99