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Monsters vs Aliens cover

Blu-ray Reviews: Monsters vs Aliens

Originally published in Sound and Image, Nov/Dec 2009, v.23#02
Last updated 25 February 2013

Download scan of review (JPEG, right click, Save As)

Monsters vs Aliens
2009 - Paramount Home Entertainment (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Julie White, Jeffrey Tambor and Amy Poehler

Movie: 4 Picture: 5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 4.5

Dreamworks Animation started most auspiciously with Shrek in 2001. Since then its movies have been good money-spinners, but without reaching the story-telling heights of Pixar. The graphics, though, are a pretty close match.

Its latest, Monsters vs Aliens, is family friendly (the 'PG' rating is for Mild Animated Violence'), and has a group of misfit 'Monsters' saving the world from an evil four-eyed alien (really four eyed, not two-eyed with vision correction). They are led by a sympathetic character (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who comes to realise her own personal power. A couple of nice set-piece action sequences pleased the little boy in me.

As is the way of these things, the movie is chockablock full of cultural references. The President (played very funnily by Stephen Colbert) uses the famous Yamaha DX7 synthesizer (which has its own Wikipedia entry!) to misplay the musical communication sequence from Close Encounters, while moments later the attack theme from Independence Day is reprised. Spot the Vulcan greeting, and what seems a reprise of the Dr Strangelove war room.

But this particular movie isn't just a regular computer animation. It was written and created for 3D presentation. This is both thrilling and disappointing.

It is disappointing because it appears on this disc in standard 2D form, there being as yet no proper standards for effective 3D in the home. But thrilling because (at the cost, of course, of buying a new version of the movie) it will be a great showcase for home 3D when it finally does appear.

You can see the 3D sensibility in the on-screen action, from the paddle ball shooting towards the viewer from the screen near the start (the ball's sound follows the action, shooting first to the right rear, then the left rear), to the stylised virtual camera angles of the 'photography'.

You can still get a taste of 3D because you also get on the disc two versions of the animated short 'Bob's Big Break', one of them in 3D. I'm told that the cinema rendition of the movie uses glasses with opposed polarising filters. This isn't possible in the home (LCD shutter glasses are more likely in the medium term), so packed into the box are four sets of cardboard glasses with coloured filters: green and magenta. Initially the 3D effect didn't seem to work for me, but it turned out I wasn't close enough to the screen. Basically, it appears to be optimum when my distance from the screen was about the same as the screen diagonal: far, far closer than you'd ever sit for regular viewing. But once I got my eye in it was possible to move back to my normal position and retain the effect. After this 13 minute story, it took some minutes to feel that my vision had returned to normal, thanks to the eyes being thrown off differentially by the filters.

The disc does not have BD-Live, but it does have a BonusView PIP element called 'Animator's Corner'. That was of widely varying interest, and rather disconnected from the on-screen action. For example, during the sequence near the start where the giant emerges, we get dry description of animation studio organisation and workflow from the editing department's point of view. Important information to be sure, and if you're planning to make animated movies, useful as well. But to me this segment reminded me of an orientation session upon starting a new job. The PIP element uses the Dolby Digital Plus format for sound, which seems to be about the only place where this lossy format survives (DTS-oriented discs use DTS Express for this purpose).

The filmmaker's commentary is a lot more fun.

The main audio is delivered in 24 bit Dolby TrueHD lossless, so you're getting everything the film-makers intended. My only complaint here is that I don't think the film-makers intended quite enough. There are bits of immersion, and some steering of sound, as with the aforementioned paddle ball, but this kind of movie calls for some seriously over the top surround sound effects, not the conventionality provided here.

So, I wouldn't recommend it to demo your sound system, but I certainly would to show off your high definition display to friends and neighbours. The characters may be cartoon-like, but the textures are rendered gloriously and with surprising realism.

Running time: 94 minutes
Picture: 2.40:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 24.92Mbps
Sound: English: Dolby TrueHD 24/48 3/2.1 @ 3379kbps (core: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps); English Audio Descriptive, Danish, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Flemish: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps; Commentary: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 224kbps; English PIP BonusView audio: Dolby Digital Plus 2/0.0 @ 192kbps
Subtitles: Danish, English, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Flemish, English for the Hearing Impaired, Trivia Track, Danish (Commentary), English (Commentary), French (Commentary), Dutch (Commentary), Norwegian (Commentary), Finnish (Commentary), Swedish (Commentary)
Extras: 'The Animator's Corner' BonusView PIP (480p24, MPEG4 AVC, Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 @ 224kbps); Animated Short: 'Bob's Big Break' - 2D and 3D versions (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, 8 x DD5.1 @ 640kbps - 2 x 13 mins); 3 Karaoke Music Party songs (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 6 mins); 3 Deleted Scenes (1080i60, MPEG4 AVC, 8 x DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 5 mins); 2 Featurettes (1080i60, MPEG4 AVC, 8 x DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 24 mins); 6 Dreamworks Animation Jukebox songs (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 224kbps - 10 mins); Four pairs of tinted 3D glasses included; 3D paddle game; Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox
Restrictions: Rated PG (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Monsters vs Aliens video bitrate graph

And this one shows the video bitrate for the PIP extra. Basically, the PIP window is open all the time, thus the consistency:

Monsters vs Aliens PIP video bitrate graph

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