Monsters vs Aliens Blu-ray Review
Monsters vs Aliens is encoded via AVC MPEG-4 and shows off the film's 2.35:1 2D incarnation in superlative style.
It is actually incredibly hard to fault the transfer of some animated movies when viewed in 1080p - and Monsters vs Aliens is no exception. Quite simply, the image here is staggeringly good. The main problem, of course, is that we are not given a 3D option which, even though we can be certain that home video technology is not yet ready for a visual treat such as this, is no real excuse for Dreamworks to be holding back.
With a very fine patina of filmic texture, the movie has a distinctive look that may deny it the glossy sheen of Pixar, but presents some eye-popping visuals, just the same, albeit with something of a retro feel. The colours are wonderfully captured and perfectly locked in place at all times. The exotic dark blue/black of Susan's spacey costume is nicely augmented with gold and silver patterns of stars and constellations, B.O.B.'s viscous blue is suitably gel-like, Cockroach's hot brittle shell is tight and ruddy, and there are some nice organic and mildewed tones to the Missing Link. Insectosaurus has plenty of colour and a great level of separation in his fuzzy fur. Galaxxhar looks appreciably grim and glowering and the sombre tones of his clone army add a glacial feel to the film's otherwise bright aspect. The humans have a variety of skin-tones and the attention to facial detail is not at all lacking. The skies of the Earth and the starry voids of space all have keen depths of colour and gradation, and the huge elements of metallic grey for both the Monsters' holding pen and the hull of Galaxxhar's ship are exhibited cleanly and starkly.
Have a gander at the fantastic waves rolling beneath the Golden Gate Bridge - they look, well, real. The scurrying people fleeing the destruction wrought about by the robot are finely etched, too. US military might - very The Day The Earth Stood Still - are finely detailed, with men and machinery stretching right across the frame. The blurring of the vast spinning cogs, motors and machine-parts when Cockroach launches his offensive looks pretty authentic as well, as does the grass outside the church during Susan's doomed wedding, and in the multitude of regimented suburban gardens. There is a great green glow to the unlucky bride, as well, that shimmers coolly from the screen as the Quantonium take effect.
With a film as fast-paced and energetic as this, there is plenty of swift motion on display and I encountered absolutely no problems with its translation to disc at all. Panning, zooms and rapid tracking shots all hold immaculately steady, with Ginormica's speed-skating through 'Frisco and her frantic, bulkhead-smashing pursuit of the alien overlord through his ship being pure stand-outs.
I think I may have spotted one very slight element of banding - typically in a wedge of sky - but I should stress that this may well have just been me seeking something to complain about and was probably just down to some subtle gradation of hue that I have mistaken for an error. Edge enhancement didn't pose a problem for me, although it is still in evidence. The thing is that, with animation, I don't perceive it as being anywhere near as intrusive as it is on live action, as the whole thing is somewhat artificial in the first place. Either way, Monsters vs Aliens looks just fantastic on Blu-ray and it is an absolute pleasure to watch it. It may not be as intricately jaw-unhinging as, say, WALL-E, nor as retina-scorching as Monsters Inc., but it has oodles of crisp clarity, terrific colours and an immaculate sense of depth - even in 2D - that just have to be admired.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track presented here is also excellent. We have a very wide soundscape that is expressive, dynamic, rich with sonic colour and full of fine steerage and surround activity. About the only thing that dogs it and stops it from getting a higher mark is the usual bugbear that afflicts such family-friendly fare ... in that it can't help but feel a tad restrained. The bass levels, whilst resounding, aren't pushed as far the more bombastic of adult action fodder and as delightfully exhilarating as it all gets there is little chance that the neighbours will be disturbed by any of the pell-mell situations that punctuate the film.
But, perhaps I'm being a little too harsh, for this lossless track more than impresses with acute directionality and strong atmospherics.
When Insectosaurus suddenly makes his entrance, there is some deliciously throaty rumbling from the rears that also ripples with the details of his bizarre bellicose voice. Conventionally, we have plenty of laser-blasts that echo and zap around the environment, as well as machine-gunfire and helicopters whup-whupping. The big planet explosion has galactic-spewed debris hurtling across the soundscape, spilling front to back with a smooth panning that is a consistent quality of the transfer. As some people will remember from the movie's theatrical experience, the Golden Gate Bridge sequence is a particularly bombastic audio stand-out and this disc definitely delivers a finely detailed, perfectly steered and agreeably weighty reproduction of its exciting sonic spectacle. Impacts, screams, crunching metal and the distant splashing of cars and wreckage tumbling into the sea fill the frontal array, and the yawning of the bridge, itself, is splendidly evocative and reverberating.
The score, sadly sans Theremin, comes across with vigour and depth, the mid-range nicely encouraged with a rich sense of warmly flush detail. Dialogue is always crisp, clear and credibly placed within the mix and the variety and timbre of the voices comes across expertly.
In short, you will have a ball with this mix. It rocks, yet won't upset the people next door. But it feels alive, vibrant and expressive and, at the end of the day, what more could you want from a track depicting Monsters vs Aliens?
Well, given that Dreamworks' animated movie used ground-breaking 3D technology that enabled the makers to actually edit it in 3D from the word go, you can rightly expect that such serious business will addressed at length in the various featurettes, trivia track, PiP option and commentary that accompany the film. And, as terrific as all this innovation clearly is - I mean the results speak for themselves - it is no excuse for the lamentably back-slapping, praise-heavy assemblage of mutual love that the production team, the voice-cast and the animators lavish across the platter.
Personally, I found the PiP track, as good as it is - in fact, this really offers value for money because it is on constantly throughout the movie - slightly nauseating. It brings in the cast and we sit in on the recording sessions. We hear about the plot and the concepts from skull-faced DW production-whiz Jeffrey Katzenberg, how the characters came together, how the actors gave them life, and, essentially, how the look and style of the animation and, particularly, the 3D was developed. So, in essence, this, just like the commentary track with the two directors and the producer Lisa Stewart, provides everything that you could wish for, but it is the painfully modulated lectures, fixed-smiles, happy-to-be-here-in-this-great-family shtick that eventually gets, gets, gets on the nerves. Thus, combined with the two little featurettes - Modern Monster Movie-Making and The Tech Of Monsters vs Aliens - we reach saccharine-saturation point. I suppose, though, that with a clearly targeted product such as a sci-fi/fantasy animated movie, there really isn't that much scope for in-depth character disassembly, plotting discussion and cultural relevance. The people mostly involved with it have laboured intensely over each frame, whereas the acting side of the deal simply waltz in to the studio and perform their lines, hence why it is so easy to skate over the dramatics and gorge upon the technology. Thus, in that respect, we should expect it. It's just that once you've seen the background to one modern CG-animated film then you've seen the background to them all, pretty much.
There are three Deleted Scenes to be enjoyed. Mostly incomplete animation, these enjoyable snippets - entitled Monger's Plan, War Room Turns On Monsters and If You Don't Know - give us more action, more character and fair few chuckles, although you can see why they didn't quite make the final cut.
Thankfully, Dreamworks package some more goodies along with the release and, in a massive surprise for me, at least, it was these more kid-friendly items that actually pleased me more - though, for a film that was so wowing in 3D, how come we only get the new short film, B.O.B.'s Big Break, presented to us in 3D?
That said, however, the 13-minute film featuring all the Monsters and Gen. Monger is enjoyable and great fun in all its screen-pushing dimensional excess as we see the team attempting to escape from their compound in Area 52. Four pairs of 3D specs are included - of the red/blue cardboard-framed variety. Another 3D element is offered in the form of a game. This, tying-in with the paddle-and-ball scene early in the movie set in the Antarctica research station, has you navigating the bouncing ball in order to hit an alien that has appeared amidst some snapshots of various other characters from the film. Erm, to be honest, this is naff. Although it does look pretty good.
What comes next, with DW Jukebox and Karaoke Music Party, really amounts to nothing more than flamboyantly dressed-up marketing for other animated releases from the studio. But the thing about these segments is that they are meant for the kids ... and, my God, I can testify to how much my two “cherubs” enjoyed them. On a seemingly endless loop, I had to endure hits from Shrek, Flushed Away, Madagascar (mind you, “Move it, Move it” always goes down well in our house), Over The Hedge, Kung Fu Panda (the classic Kung Fu Fighting, of course) and Bee Movie. But the sing-a-long Karaoke section, featuring specially made performances from Ginormica (“I Will Survive”), B.O.B. (“More Than A Woman”) and a duet from Dr. Cockroach and Link (“Born To Be Wild”) is , without doubt, the better of the two, simply because it grants us more screen-time with the characters from the main event. Again, in my house, this was something that my kids totally embraced. So you see, no matter how much we adults like to either ignore or berate such juvenile features, the target market do actually get a lot out of them ... so, ahem, objective achieved, I would say.
And another great, although totally promotional feature can be found by accessing the DO NOT ENTER top secret files from the main menu, which gives us sneak peaks at the next 3D adventure from DW (something about teaching a dragon to fly), Po's Kung Fu Panda Virtual World, The Penguins of Madagascar (cool dudes, these), Shrek The Halls, Secrets Of The Furious Five and a look at the Activision game trailer for Monsters vs Aliens. But by far the best piece to be found in this section is the lengthy look at Shrek The Musical. Here we get to meet the cast, see some footage, hear some reactions and get a great flavour of the hit Broadway show adaptation. Plus, we get special presentations of a couple of the major songs from the production. I have to admit that, being a fan of Shrek, this was quite a treat.
Oh, and one other weird thing that I noticed whilst watching some of the behind-the-scenes stuff was how much Hugh Laurie, with his gaunt face, greying hair and stubble has come to look like ... wait for it ... Clint Eastwood! No, seriously, you look for yourselves.
A great little homage to the SF boom of the 50's, Monsters vs Aliens hits the ground running and conjures up all kinds of kooky nostalgia. From bug-eyed alien invaders to cute-but-colossal girls in fetching spray-on superhero garb, Dreamworks aims for a colourful, action-packed romp and hits the bullseye. The comedy works both as character-based observation and as ripe send-up of the whole jet-age sense of extraterrestrial wonder. The animation is magnificent, the story simple but extremely effective, and the seed is sown for potential future adventures with the motley crew of ecological throwbacks, laboratory mistakes and block-busting giants.
The movie is presented on BD with absolutely tip-top AV and an enjoyable and lively set of extras. I'm getting cheesed-off with friendly techno-babble from CG-animators, but that doesn't mean that the roster of mini-docs, commentary and PiP gubbins aren't fact-packed and entertaining in their own right and offer much of worth about a movie that too many people seemed to neglect during its theatrical run.
With hints of Mars Attacks!-style anarchic humour interspersed throughout and a similar sense of genuine affection for the genre, Monsters vs Aliens is a winner in my book.
Highly recommended, folks.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31
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