Monsters - Special Edition Blu-ray Review
Monsters comes to Region Free US Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. Considering that the entire movie was shot on location, by one man – the Director – and largely using natural lighting, it is surprising that it comes across this well. Detail is largely good throughout, with some lapses towards softness, although even these appear to be intentional decisions by the Director in his guerrilla-style shoot. Of course there’s a fair amount of noise peppered throughout, and though the daytime (or well-lit) sequences avoid the majority of this, the night scenes are unquestionably grainy. Still, it largely all adds to the ‘feel’ of the production, and should not be taken as a reason to avoid this release. The only thing that I thought was a disappointment after having seen this movie at the Big Screen was the prevalence of posterization during some of the more low-lit scenes – from the hotel room, to their first walk through the town, visiting the church and commemoration graveyard etc. It’s a bit of a shame because even the Deleted Scenes included on the disc do not appear to have this issue. Still, that’s my only real quibble with this presentation. Back to the positives and the colour scheme is also realistic to the material and the setting, with lush and vibrantly green jungles, jaw-droppingly gorgeous sunsets, decent skin tones and an expected amount of faded, drained accompaniments, indicative of the location. Blacks levels are impinged upon by the aforementioned noise, and so too is the nightvision sequence at the start. Overall there’s no way that this could ever be regarded as top quality in any way, shape or form, but that’s not to say that it isn’t pretty faithful to the original, very limited, source material, with only some posterization standing out as the one thing I could have felt they could have done without.
On the aural front the movie comes with a surprisingly potent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which definitely brings out the absolute best in the fairly reserved material. Dialogue is relatively clear and coherent throughout, largely emanating from across the frontal array, with a few moments where it seeps into the rears for some directional action. But the directionality is much more evident in the smattering of ballistically-enhanced moments where bullets strafe across the landscape or larger weapons are disseminated against the ‘visitors’. Helicopters also thunder overheard on a couple of noteworthy occasions, adding further LFE action to the equation, but it should be noted that the majority of this track is left to pure ambience and a suitably dark electronic score (à la Solaris). And that’s really not an issue at all, because this offering is keenly observant throughout, the jungle seething with life at all times – and from all directions. As I’ve stated, surprisingly, this is a remarkably engulfing, atmospheric mix which is – in its own way – demo-quality.
First up we get an interesting and informative Commentary provided by the Director Gareth Edwards, and his companions on this adventure, the stars – and real-life couple – Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. This is really the first of many how-to offerings, here with a blow-by-blow account of how they put this production together on such a low budget, how they accomplished some of the shots and effects (some of the ones they point out are seamless), the improvisational work, and the trouble they encountered along the way. With the two newbie actors on board as well the commentary remains not only technically informative but also fresh and engaging, providing an often self-depreciating, at times jovial addition to the proceedings.
Deleted and Extended Scenes
Here we get 20 minutes’ worth of extra footage, split into four scenes (not chronological), and further showcasing the improvisational nature of the production, with entire segments of new dialogue – there’s a new ferry ticket segment with a different (less charismatic) vendor, a longer moment at the first place they stay at after getting off the train, a vastly extended hotel room sequence, and finally a completely new scene where the couple are chatting in a field.
Behind the Scenes of Monstersis a whopping hour-plus-long documentary which further details this epic journey that was made on a shoestring budget, now offering visuals into the production – including a detailed look at the minimalist equipment used and the harder aspects of the filming. It really comes across as a mammoth undertaking, keeping the costs low whilst also trying to use every clever technique in the book to pull off the shoot. Impressive.
The Edittakes a further 21 minutes to show how the Editor had his work cut out trying to string together the various scenes – often largely improvisational – in order to form some kind of cohesive storyline.
Visual Effectsoffers yet more making-of material, again hosted by the Director, who spends some 34 minutes explaining the effects processes – mostly done by him, locked in a room with the relevant equipment. Although not all of them come across as smoothly as you would have liked, it is remarkable just how much he pulled off with so little.
HDNet: A Look at Monsterstakes 5 minutes to give us what is essentially an extended promo, complete with final film footage, behind the scenes snippets and soundbites from the Director.
Interview with Gareth Edwardsgives us a further three quarters of an hour(!) with the Director, who this time talks not only about his work on this film, but also about his attitude towards modern filmmaking, his preference for a guerrilla shooting style and his own personal ideas about extra terrestrials. A personal, insightful offering.
Interview with Scoot McNairy and Whitney Ableis the best part of half an hour in length and is quite a warm, engaging discussion with the couple, who reflect upon their involvement in the project and their ideas behind portraying a blossoming relationship.
New York Comic Con Discussion with Gareth Edwardsis just 5 minutes, which comes as something of a relief after all of the other weighty extras.
Finally we get some Trailers to accompany the main feature although, conspicuously absent are the trailers for the film itself.
Don’t let the odd name fool you, Monsters is a quality bit of British independent filmmaking – shot on a shoestring budget, on location, with only two actors and a tiny crew interacting with locals, improvised dialogue and home-made effects – it is adventurous, observational filmmaking at its best. Adopting the best parts of everything from Blair Witch to Cloverfield, Jurassic Park to District 9; it remains breathtakingly fresh and original in its very natural portrayal of, essentially, a simple romantic road-movie, that just happens to have the setting of an Alien invasion. With subtle nods to the US Home Security program, and a fantastic wrap-around twist (that you will have to be really paying attention to in order to pick up on), it comes as recommended viewing. Just see what $500,000 can lead to and be amazed that, for all the big bucks thrown around in Hollywood Blockbusters, there’s no making up for a distinct lack of ideas. And this is a movie all about clever ideas, authentic performances and grounded substance.
On Region Free US Blu-ray we get decent video and superior audio as well as a hefty collection of comprehensive extras, all of which should further encourage all of you who are interested to go out and blind buy this indie gem. Highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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