Monsters vs. AliensGot to admit, when you’ve directed, or at least co-directed, the biggest money-making animated movie of all time, topping yourself isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Such is the case of Conrad Vernon. No doubt he knew he had a hit when he started calling the shots on Shrek 2. No one would have guessed the film would eventually go on to make nearly a $1 billion worldwide.
Still, as proven in his interview earlier this week, Vernon was smart enough to not go on to do Shrek the 3rd. Instead he decided to give his properly warped love of science fiction monster movies of the 50s the treatment they deserved. He and fellow director Rob Letterman plopped Ed Wood Jr., Roger Corman, Mars Attacks! (both the original trading cards and the Tim Burton movie) and just about everything psychotronic since then into an atom smasher. From there, the now established Dreamworks formula of name stars and a relatively sarcastic view of the world at large were applied. The resulting roue was then dubbed Monsters vs. Aliens.
To be real, it’s a solid, if a bit predictable, story. Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is about to get married when she comes into contact with a meteor from outer space…the hard way. This makes a true mess of her marriage as 1) she then grows to be 49 ½ feet tall and, 2) along with the meteor the U.S. military drops out of the sky, ties her up tighter than Gulliver, and whisks her away.
Susan then finds herself under the personal care of General Warren Monger (Kiefer Sutherland). Her fellow detainees are a generally affable bunch headed by Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), your classic mad scientist who went to far; a Blob named B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), the Missing Link (Will Arnett) and an exceedingly cuddly 350 foot tall caterpillar, Insectosaurus. The Invisible Man makes a cameo too, sort of.
These “monsters” are kept in isolation as the government’s ultimate defense. Even the President (Steven Colbert) doesn’t know about them. Then again, he doesn’t know that much to begin with, but he’s damn good with the one liners.
Of course, that’s when the aliens invade. Led by the multi-tentacled Galaxhar (Rainn Wilson), their goal is to find that meteorite and apply it to the Big G’s nefarious plans for universal domination. If that means destroying 90% of the human population in the process, well that’s nothing personal. It’s strictly business. You can figure the rest out from there.
Where Vernon truly triumphs is in his subtle use of sci-fi cliches. Yes, there’s the obvious such stuff, but there’re also a lot of more subtle drops, ranging from classic cult shows like Red Dwarf to slipping the B-52’s “Planet Claire” and Star Trek: TOS’s battle theme in the inevitable war room shots. No doubt a FAQ of all the references is already being put together by some bunch of internet movie geeks with nothing better to do.
Yet what really carries this film is Vernon and Letterman are solid story men. As he said when we talked to him earlier this week, the overall creative process was apparently a ginormous jam session with just about everyone involved, but still Vernon and Letterman culled the best out of all that space junk and made a ripping good yarn out of it.
Which leads to the animation and this spanking new production process called Intru 3-D. To be honest, it has its moments, especially when the color schemes feature more blacks, reds, oranges and yellows in them. Quite frankly, things tend to flatten out when they move on to the greens, blues, violets and whites.
Another carp: The picture gets out of focus real fast if you move your neck just a tad too much. One almost felt like you needed a neck brace to maintain the full 3-D effect, when it was working. That can get annoying. The only suggestion is to give your head a good shake whenever this happens, then get back on to the film.
Still, when this effect is working properly, like when our heroes inevitably have to do battle circling the planet, it can be eye poppingly good. Can it use some refinement? You bet. Still, not bad for a first time. For the moment we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the next film.
Criticisms aside the simple truth is if you go into the theater just looking for a solid laugh, MvA is going to give you more than your share, even if you’re a fan of monster movies or not. As for Mr. Vernon’s attempt to top himself? Honestly he didn’t quite hit the mark this time, but he still manages to do a solid job of entertaining.
Is there anything more he could have done? Nope. Now it will be real interesting to see what he does with his next project: HR Puffenstuff.