Monday, 10 December 2012

Monster House

2006, US, Directed by Gil Kenan
Animation, Running Time: 87 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Sony; Video: 2.39:1 1080p 24fps (3D), Audio: DTS HD MA

In an American suburb the local kids are terrorized by a bitter old man whenever they step on his property or let their toys fall on to his lawn, causing a real stink on Halloween when kids like to go trick-or-treating (AKA making a complete nuisance). One boy in particular, DJ, is suspicious of what goes on in the old man’s spooky house, setting up a telescope in his bedroom and generally becoming obsessed. As his parents shoot off for holiday - er, sorry: vacation - and the old man himself is taken away by ambulance after a screaming fit leaves him with a heart attack, DJ enlists the help of his fat friend and the local babe (if you’re 13 or under of course) as they begin to realise that the house itself seems to have a mind of its own, apparently ‘eating’ anything that strays too close. The police understandably don’t believe a word of it, so the youngsters decide to take the matter into their own digits - they start formulating a plan to break in.
Presenting itself as a modern mix of The ‘burbs and The Goonies, Monster House is a fairly creative CGI movie showcasing advances in technology to quite astounding effect. The story itself is not ground-breaking but the characters’ behavioural patterns and facial expressions are a joy to watch. The script is executed at a slower pace than expected by the usual roundup of ’stars’ who do an adequate job with the material, though I wasn’t especially keen on Steve Buscemi’s vocal performance as the old man. There is a tragic element to the story (referring to the old man's wife)that's kind of in the background most of the time whilst being ultimately a conceptual driving factor for the entire escapade - I guess it does add some emotional weight but it was something that I felt a little uncomfortable with.  Rendering has reached such heights that the visuals could almost pass for stop-motion photography if the character movements themselves were not so smooth, which almost makes one wonder if the film could just have been shot as live-action utilising CG special effects (especially considering the extensive use of motion capture, which is not true animation). Made using an innovative 3D process for its original theatrical screenings, the technique has stimulated plenty of inventive virtual camera work that helps draw the viewer into the action. There seems to have been a little influence from Tim Burton here also, the score itself coming across as a Danny Elfman imitation on occasions. An acceptably delightful film; kind of an animated horror for children, with a few scenes that may frighten younger viewers.

Have previously seen this a couple of times on DVD, the direct digital transfer was not as sharp as expected but was otherwise very attractive, for standard definition…However, the 3D Blu-ray transfer is another matter. It’s an absolute stunner – there is no softness, only pixel-perfect sharpness to a point where even characters at a distance are neatly defined - the images created by the Sony team are often quite stunning. Colours and contrast are absolutely vibrant and the addition of the third dimension is a thrill from beginning (where a leaf calmly drifts down from a tree top to the ground as we follow it) to the climactic end sequence as DJ is tossed around on the end of a crane hook – be prepared for vertigo! The surround mix is equally absorbing making the Blu-ray an awesome demonstration piece for your system, whether you enjoy the film or not. Monster House is quite a fun ride, a factor multiplied by a hundred if you watch this in 3D.

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