Monsters – Blu-ray Review

Let’s just get this out of the way, and say that if you’re looking for an alien invasion film, or something along the lines of Jurassic Park, but with aliens, as the trailer tends to imply, then you’ll have to look elsewhere. You see, Monsters has little to do with the actual monsters, and more to do with everything that’s happening because of them.

The story is simple: Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist, is tasked by his wealthy employer to escort the man’s daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), from Mexico, back into the United States. While this sounds easy enough, the problem is that six years prior, a probe that NASA sent into orbit crashed upon re-entry, and upon doing so, released alien life forms into what has now been quarantined off as the ‘infected zone.’ The infected zone, while breaching into both countries, mainly lies across the border, however, the U.S. has built a giant wall in order to keep the alien species from crossing over, and inhabiting the rest of the country.

While there will certainly be speculation that Writer/Director Gareth Edwards meant all of this as a different take on the highly publicized border issues between Mexico and the U.S., or who the monsters really are, it really all depends on how you want to view the film, and that’s one of the great things about it. Though he says so himself, that underneath it all, the film really is “a love story.”

Monsters isn’t action packed, and while it has a some perfectly placed, tense, confrontational moments, there’s no doubt that those looking for a lower budget War of the Worlds will likely feel this film is, quite frankly, boring. While the main goal of Monsters is for these characters to get back home, there’s a much more subtle idea to it all, which is really the two characters discovering a bit more about themselves, and what they truly want out of life, all while on this dangerous journey.

Now, this can rarely be said, but the special features are so fantastic for this film, that while I’ll talk about them more thoroughly below, I‘ve actually got to include them in the review in order to help explain just how much of an impact they can have on the viewing experience of this film.

The behind-the-scenes feature can actually be viewed as a separate documentary that follows the crew during the making of the film. Did I mention that the crew consisted of only a handful of people, and that McNairy and Able were the only two actors in the film, while the rest were just locals? What about the fact that there was no true script, and only a brief outline that they shot around, with the dialogue being improvised by McNairy and Able as they went along? It’s all true, and you’ll actually get to see it all unfold in the special features.

Edwards is a filmmaker who should be celebrated for the chances he took making this film. Choosing to step away from the corporate, money-making side of it all, Edwards decided that using a small budget, he’d go out, film what he thought worked, wherever he thought it would work, and then — being a master of visual effects and all — implement his visions through CGI (an acronym which he doesn’t truly like) in post-production. That’s not to say that it was easy, far from it in fact, but seeing the film-making process from this perspective changes your outlook on the film, whether you loved it or hated it.

Knowing what you find out from these features will make you notice things you may have missed the first time around, like just how random conversations that the two actors have with one another were cut down from hours of footage and made to sound coherent, or that all the special effects, be it the monsters themselves, or even the helicopters, tanks, fences, hell, even the signs are all created from the mind, and by the hand of Edwards. It really is intriguing, and will no doubt leave you wanting to see the movie again.

Monsters is a unique film that should be seen, no question, so long as you know what you’re getting into. Whether you end up liking it or not, do yourself a favour and check out the special features, as sometimes the behind-the-scenes documentary can be more entertaining than the film itself. And while it might seem like backwards logic, you may understand, and enjoy the movie more because of them.

The audio for the film is DTS-HD Master Audio, and sounds perfect. This is a film where they got it right on every level, and it shows. The video quality is solid as well, with some great, clear shots, especially knowing they shot the film guerrilla-style with a single camera.

While I’ve given extras good scores in the past, I’ve never actually commented separately saying that they’re required viewing, but that’s definitely the case when it comes to Monsters. The extras bring a whole new level of depth to the film, and really show Writer/Director Gareth Edwards for the ingenious filmmaker, and all around funny, entertaining guy that he is.

Commentary with Gareth Edwards, Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able – You’ll learn a lot from all the other features, but this is a play by play from those who were there through every shot of the film, giving their thoughts of the entire journey along the way.

Deleted and Extended Scenes – These can be skipped, as there are only four, and there isn’t really anything here that needs to be seen, and some of the extended scenes run upwards of 10 minutes, with few changes along the way.

HDNet: A Look at Monsters This five minute summary of the film, with quick snippets of interviews from the cast and crew and a few clips is what passes as an extra for most small films of this type, but this is one you don’t even need to watch, as the remaining features are the meat and potatoes that can’t be missed.

Behind-the-Scenes of Monsters This documentary runs at an hour and ten minutes, and has to be seen. It’s hilarious, informative, and just addictive to watch. I’ve already touched on most of the reasons why you need to see this in my actual review, and there’s not much more to say than turn it on, and watch the time fly by.

The Edit – Here’s a 21-minute feature about how they edited the film together, trimming down hundreds of hours of footage, random dialogue, and shots of scenery that only made sense to Edwards and the visions in his mind at the time. It’s really amazing to see what Editor Colin Goudie did with the works, using his past in documentaries to help condense dialogue, and pull a coherent plot out of what was really just a random pile of footage with no real set path.

Visual Effects – If by this point you don’t want to just hang out with Gareth Edwards, then you likely have stopped watching, as he continues to be one of the most interesting film minds I’ve come across in a long while. Here we see just how his visions of just shooting the sky turned into a shot of a militarized fenced in zone, with helicopters buzzing over head, or a quiet ride across a river quickly turned into an alien wrestling with a downed fighter jet. It’s 35 minutes in length, and it, like the above, almost feel like a fun field trip to film school, with a great host.

Interview with Gareth Edwards – Just when you thought you heard it all (and to be fair, some of it will be discovered ground) we are then hit with a 44-minute interview with the writer and director of the film. Options are always great, and there is some new information to be found in here, so those who like face to face interviews may like hearing Edwards straight up talk about the film, and the process, over watching it happen like we do in the previous features.

Interview with Scoot McNairy & Whitney Able – It’s this 28 minute interview that some may find more interesting, as while we’ve heard from the two in previous features, we get a more face to face approach this time around, hearing about how they were brought on to the film, and even how Edwards ended up staying on their couch during the pitch stages of the film. That’s a reverse casting couch if I’ve ever seen one.

New York Comic Con Discussion – This quick 5 minute clip is fast enough, that you might as well watch it just to hear more from the charismatic Gareth Edwards.

Monsters won’t be for everyone, especially those going in expecting a crazy, alien-infested, fight for survival type of film. However, if you know that going in, maybe that will help prepare you for what it actually is, which is a heartfelt look at humanity, and what’s really important to us, with a few giant monsters thrown into the mix that toss cars around from time to time, just to keep you on your toes. That, along with a brilliant wealth of extras that not only instantly up the replay value, but basically make this a two-for-one deal in terms of viewing material.

Magnet Releasing and Vertigo Films Present Monsters. Directed by: Gareth Edwards. Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able. Running time: 94 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray and DVD: February 1, 2011.

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