I went to see Monsters vs Aliens partly because I had a chance to see it in 3-D, and I wanted to see how good the latest version of the technology is. There have been waves of enthusiasm for 3-D (stereoscopic) movies going back to the early 1950s. In the past the enthusiasm has faded as it became clear that the technology of the time did not look very realistic and tended to induce mild headaches, and for the most part all that directors did with it was to use it to throw things in the audience’s faces.
The latest fad is to combine stereoscopic imaging with computer-generated animation, which eliminates the need to fiddle with temperamental stereoscopic cameras. Dreamworks in particular has committed to making all of their future animated films in 3-D.
Initially I was quite impressed by how it looks. The new technology has tremendous depth of field; it really is much like watching the action through a window. Gradually I became less impressed. The action looks somehow unnatural, so that I was constantly being reminded of the technique rather than being immersed in the story. After a while I started to get a mild headache. And the main artistic purpose still seems to be to throw things at our faces.
Oh well. As Jerry Pournelle likes to say, “I do the stupid things so you don’t have to.”
As the movie begins, Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is about to marry a narcissistic weatherman when she is hit by a meteorite, which causes her to grow to become 50 feet tall. She is promptly rounded up by the military and imprisoned in a top-secret facility along with other refugees from 1950s monster movies. These include a blob named B.O.B., a mad scientist who has turned himself into a cockroach man, “Insectasaurous” (a giant grub who looks strangely hamster-like) and “The Missing Link” (half ape/half fish).
The base is commanded by General W.R. Monger (which is about the height of wit that this movie attains.) Initially he just wants to keep the monsters safely confined, but when Earth is threatened by an alien invasion he decides to offer them their freedom if they will defend the planet.
One would hope that a film that spoofs old schlocky monster movies would offer more laughs than you could get by watching one of the originals. This film doesn’t deliver. The jokes are lame, tired and creaking; the writing in general is uninspired and predictable. Even Stephen Colbert as the dim-witted President never manages to be more than mildly amusing.
This movie suffers from the basic problem that has wrecked the American animation industry, the attitude that says “Who cares? We’re just making crap for kids here.” The children in the audience seemed to find it pretty funny. Probably they hadn’t heard the jokes before. For adults it was pretty tedious.