Monsters vs Aliens is actually pretty cool in concept: An attempt to reinvent classic monsters from movies of the 1950s in order to celebrate their Otherness, this film is what happens when Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven gets mashed together with a Saturday morning cartoon.The story is simple enough. Susan’s wedding is interrupted when she gets hit by a meteor. It turns out that the meteor is made of a special substance that causes her to grow to gigantic proportions. The army is quickly on the scene and takes Susan to a hidden military base where she is locked away from society along with other monsters including The Missing Link (a 20,000 year old fish-ape hybrid), B.O.B. (an indestructible gelatinous mass), Dr. Cockroach (a mad scientist who transformed himself an insect), and Insectosaurus (a 350-foot furry insect). When aliens invade earth, the monsters are given a chance to save the planet and rethink their place in the world.
The characters are all recognisable references to 1950s monster films: Missing Link is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Susan is a reference to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, B.O.B. is The Blob, Dr. Cockroach is from The Fly and Insectosaurus is Mothra of Godzilla fame. The monsters of those eras generally played into societal fears. For example, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman can be seen as a reaction to the influx of women into the workforce due to the War and the economic power it gave them. The Fly is a reflection of the fear felt towards scientists as a result of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Creature from the Black Lagoon reflects a misdirected obsession with Darwinism, a racially-charged fear of the sexual threat posed by those then perceived to be lower down the evolutionary chain. Monsters vs Aliens then takes these objects of fear and transforms them into cuddly, loveable misfits. Susan is a monster but she’s no longer a threat: She just wants to save the world and be accepted for being different. What is most interesting is seeing how her transformation into a giant causes her to reevaluate her worth and question her need to be married to a man scared to live in his wife’s shadow.
Monsters vs Aliens is showing in 3D which is available at pretty much all multiplexes as far as I can tell. There was a failed attempt at introducing 3D cinema in the fifties. The industry of the time introduced all kinds of technological innovations to attract audiences who were being lured away by television and most of these have stuck around to this day like stereoscopic sound and cinemascope. With the drop in box office caused by such things as internet piracy, the studios are again pushing 3D and it looks like it might be here to stay. The 3D effect used in this movie is pretty amazing and for the most part unobtrusive except for a gag early on involving a paddleball (a House of Wax reference which is only funny if you’ve seen it).
It’s just a shame that despite the cool concept and the cool 3D, the script turns out to be pretty weak. It has none of the character writing of, say, Toy Story. The monsters have defining characteristics but don’t feel like full characters mainly functioning as cute sidekicks. A moment towards the end of the film involving the death of a character doesn’t have the impact it should because the filmmakers didn’t spend enough time earlier on establishing the relationships between characters. It’s even more of a shame that the script isn’t better because the voice-cast is a veritable smorgasboard of hot comic actors: Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor and Amy Poehler to name a few. I should probably mention at this point that Reese Witherspoon plays the voice of Susan but she’s not really a ‘hot comic actor’ is she?
A missed opportunity? Maybe. But overall, there’s much to recommend Monsters vs Aliens.
SEE THIS WITH:
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008)
For some more monster loving.
Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975)
For some fairly more challenging monster loving.