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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) - Cruise Back to the Sci Fi Classics of Yesteryear

Pomposity-Pricking Galore in "Monsters vs. Aliens"

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"Monsters vs. Aliens" (2009), directed by Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman for DreamWorks Animation, is a fun parody of classic monster movies. While not using the actual characters from the films it parodies, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is fairly obvious in what it is doing and why. However, you don't have to have seen any of the films it is referencing to enjoy "Monsters vs. Aliens," though that adds another layer of enjoyment for those who have put in the time watching "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," "The Fly," "The Blob," "Star Trek" and similar classics of the genre.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
"And now for the weather"

Susan Murphy is about to get married to weatherman Derek Dietl, but right before her wedding she is struck by a meteorite. Exposed to the mysterious substance quantonium, Susan suddenly starts growing in size during the wedding ceremony. The government is alerted to her condition and captures her, secluding her on a remote military installation under code name "Ginormica." The military base also is home to: B.O.B., an alien blob; Dr. Cockroach, a man with the head of a cockroach; Insectosaurus, a huge grub; and Missing Link, a fish-ape hybrid. General W.R. Monger runs the top-secret home to these assorted monsters.

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Will Arnett is Missing Link

Gallaxhar, a powerful alien, wants to gather quantonium for himself because it has powerful properties that he can use to take over the universe. He notices that earth suddenly seems to have some quantonium, so he dispatches a robot probe. The robot meets the United States President, President Hathaway, but the robot isn't interested in peace and starts destroying everything. General Monger is alerted to the deteriorating situation and unleashes his collection of monsters to fight the robot in exchange for their freedom. The monsters manage to defeat the robot at the Golden Gate Bridge.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Dr. Cockroach is voiced by Hugh Laurie

Now free, Susan tries to return and resume her life, but she and her monster friends cause chaos in the neighborhood. Derek now wants nothing to do with her, so Susan accepts the fact that life is going to be different forever. Gallaxhar now appears and kidnaps Susan, bringing her to his spaceship. Susan winds up in Gallaxhar's machine which extracts the quantonium from her body, shrinking Susan back down to normal size. Using the extracted quantonium, Gallaxhar begins cloning an army with which to achieve his evil plans of domination.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
"Oh, no!"

It now is up to B.O.B., Dr. Cockroach and Missing Link to save the world. They board Gallaxhar's spaceship and rescue Susan. Then, they program the ship's computer to self-destruct and blow up the spaceship. The monsters, though, become trapped within the ship's power core, which is due to explode. Susan is able to find Gallaxhar, who is trying to escape with the quantonium, and she manages to restore her earlier giant size. This enables Susan to save the other monsters, who escape when General Monger appears on Insectosaurus, who has transformed into a giant butterfly. Gallaxhar remains in his ship, which explodes.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Modern woman

Everybody returns home, where Susan dumps Derek and the monsters confront a new menace, a giant snail named Escargantua which is destroying Paris.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
"Ginormica, reporting for duty!"

There is no question that "Monsters vs. Aliens" is a clever film. In fact, it is so clever that it may be a little bit too clever for many prospective audience members. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is a lot like DreamWorks' "Megamind," another attempt to deconstruct and parody the sci-fi monster genre. If you get the reference, for instance, to the self-destruct idea which was a recurring convention in the original "Star Trek" series, it is amusing in that knowing way that perhaps make some folks feel affirmed in their geekiness or something. Making the computer a bit snarky no doubt fulfills the desire of some to have the imagined pomposity of the original "Star Trek" series deflated a bit.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
DVD Cover

There also are ample opportunities to dwell upon how empowered modern-day Susan is compared to women back in the day when the originals were made. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is all about showing, in back-handed fashion, how out of date the original versions are in our "End of History" and post-feminist era. The crux is that "Monsters vs. Aliens" isn't really adding anything new to the genre, it simply is altering and updating previous characterizations. That is enjoyable, but it doesn't put "Monsters vs. Aliens" itself in the classic category.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Susan and friends.

However, there are also many viewers who either aren't up on all the allusions or who even cherish the originals and might resent them being made fun of by some modern wise guys. They also might not like being made to feel like dinosaurs simply because they still enjoy the originals. A little pomposity-pricking goes a long way. And, then, there are many who simply aren't into the, you know, pomposity-pricking. Sorry, I like that term, pomposity-pricking, can you tell? That's kind of the feel you'll get from "Monsters vs. Aliens," overly self-referential genuflections to how satisfying it is to be self-indulgent and amuse oneself. Pomposity-pricking all over the place.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Can you tell what classic film is being parodied here? I bet you can.

Make no mistake, though, "Monsters vs. Aliens" stands on its own, and is a fine film with a coherent plot. The visuals are stellar, and this was DreamWorks' first film in stereoscopic 3-D animation. The monsters are rendered in awesome fashion,  and while they are not that original, that isn't surprising since this is a parody. Still - they aren't very original.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Susan is quite the daredevil

That "Monsters vs. Aliens" plays in a jokey fashion, with all the monster heroes being flawed and human, is not necessarily a drawback unless you start to feel condescended to, which is an endemic problem with parodies. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is all about exploding conventions, but keep in mind that the original conventions were there for a reason, and a little convention-exploding goes a long way. A lot of convention-exploding, as here, meanwhile, can get annoying, as can the occasional bathroom humor if you are older than, say, fifteen.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Does Gallaxhar remind you of any other sci fi film?

Reese Witherspoon voices Susan in her normally perky manner, while Seth Rogen plays B.O.B., Hugh Laurie from "House" voices Dr. Cockroach, Will Arnett is Missing Link and Conrad Vernon makes suitable sounds (it is not a speaking part) as Insectosaurus. Rainn Wilson from "The Office" was riding a crest of popularity and is Gallaxhar, while Kiefer Sutherland is a standout as General Monger. Henry Jackman composed the soundtrack, which also contains classics from the B-52s, Little River Band, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs and others. There is a decidedly retro flavor to the music, which reinforces the parody theme.

monsters vs aliens 2009 dreamworks animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Never let a mere bridge get in your way!

"Monsters vs. Aliens" was successful, though only moderately so (for a top-shelf animated film), grossing $381.5 million worldwide. Foreign audiences, i.e., ones that weren't as conversant with the films being parodied as U.S. viewers, did not appreciate the film as much as domestic audiences did. "Monsters vs. Aliens" has spawned a cottage industry of television specials, a short film and video game, and a television series. No doubt a sequel will appear someday, but there are no plans to make one at the moment.

Below is the trailer for "Monsters vs. Aliens."



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