BLU-RAY REVIEW: Monsters
Director Gareth Edwards' powerful social & political commentary comes to home video...
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In a Hollywood in which film's aren't made for millions of dollars but tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, it's truly a sight for sore eyes when a visionary director like Gareth Edwards creates something as amazingly wonderful as Monsters for under $500,000.
Beautifully written, brilliantly acted and striking in its visuals, Monsters was touted by many as 2010's District 9. A political and social commentary no doubt, Monsters - like District 9 before it - focuses on misunderstood and mistreated aliens in both the literal and figurative sense. However, what's so impressive about Monsters is it was made for a fraction of District 9's budget and, surprising as it sounds, does a better job of conveying the tragic, heart-breaking tale it seek to tell. While plot holes and logic sometimes seems tossed out the window, Monsters does an exceptional job of revealing to us the external turmoil, frustration, and alienation a harsh, ruthless and somewhat apathetic America shows its neighbors to the south.
A tumultuous roller coaster of emotions crying out to be heard, Monsters attempts to deliver a reformation message which - if only too brief and often frightening in its delivery - has seemed to fall on deaf ears for far too long. This message is revealed through the lens of our two main characters: Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able); one a photojournalist searching for the story of a lifetime in alien-infested Mexico and the other the boss' daughter, stuck in a foreign country and in need of a babysitter and ride home. What the pair don't realize is, through their meeting and extemporaneous trip together, the couple will find themselves facing both death, love and a better understanding of what it means to change.
Edwards does a marvelous job of directing both McNairy and Able who, at the time of casting, were dating (the pair are now married). This off-screen romance shows through brilliantly in the finished film as the couple have an undeniable chemistry which shines through, forcing us - as viewers - to truly care about the couple and their budding relationship amongst both emotional and physical adversity.
While the story must be watched to be fully comprehended, the reoccurring theme of isolation seems foremost in the director's mind and no other image better conveys this sentiment than our lost companions making it to America's southern border only to find a massive iron and concrete wall separating them from their home. Almost incomprehensible in its size, the wall isn't only a physical barrier the couple must overcome, but a mental construct which we too as viewers and Americans must break down in order to better understand the isolation we force upon many a foreigners seeking refuge in our country.
The Monsters blu-ray includes a solid 1080p hi-def video transfer. Considering Edwards shot the entire film on a hand-held camera, there are moments which are unfocused and unclear. However, the filmmaker does an amazing overall job with revealing the story through the lush colors of the unknown jungle and the drab images of desolation and destruction. Likewise, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track brilliantly captures both the sharp snaps of gunfire and boisterous bursts of explosions as well as the nagging buzzing of insects and unexpected croaking of alien life. Throughout, the film's soundtrack graciously delivers variable sounds to all effected channels, giving fans with a good home theater something to cheer.
As for special features, the two-disc set includes both a digital copy of the film as well as a generous amount of behind-the-scenes featurettes. A full-length feature commentary with director Gareth Edwards and actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able delivers an entertaining and informative look at how the film was made for a minute budget. A 70 minute official "behind the scenes" documentary delivers plenty of info about the pre-production, production and post-production. If you're an aspiring film maker looking to do amazing things with an unimpressive budget, give this featurette a look. 20 minutes of deleted and extended scenes are also included. "Monsters: The Edit" is a 20+ minute featurette which features film editor Colin Goudie talking us through his work, sorting through footage to find what fit the film best while a 30+ minute featurette, "Visual Effects," shows how Edwards made the aliens and other digital effects.
The disc also includes a pair of interviews, a 40+ minute "Interview with Gareth Edwards" gives viewers a considerable look at the filmmaker, his methods, and more while a near 30 minute "Interview with Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able" gives viewers a look at the pair's characters. A short 8+ minute "HDNet: A Look at Monsters" promo piece is included as is an extremely short clip from Edwards' appearance at the 2010 New York Comic Con.
While Monsters might not be the big-budget blockbuster some fans are looking for, it more than makes up for it's small budget with its clarity of purpose and a true desire to make an impact. With a solid message to tell and a brilliant pair of actors and an awesome story to tell it, Monsters delivers a powerful, poignant and memorable tale that'll not soon be forgotten once experienced.
Monsters is rated R for language and is available now on blu-ray and DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley