The Home Theater: “Monsters”

Quick Note: Do you love movies but hate the rigmarole of going to the theater? And by “rigmarole,” I mean “other people.” Me, too. Bunch of noisy bastards. Well, guess what: With all the titanic LCD, LED, Plasma, and 3D televisions out there, coupled with the tear-draining clarity of Blu-ray and the “what did you just say?” power of 7.1 surround sound piping out of everyone’s living room these days, you don’t ever have to visit the theater again. Great for you! But, what can you watch? What follows is one suggestion:

As those of you who have visited this space may have discerned, and those who haven’t can likely tell with little to no formal investigative training, I totally dig giant monsters. They’re big, they smash stuff, and their stories have to potential to show us a world wrought with terror — the kind of place in which everyday one must, along with going to work and visiting Walmart, live with the very real concern of either being crushed, eaten, burned, electrocuted, exploded or melted with some kind of eye laser. It’s a great setting ripe for exploration.

Unfortunately, only the Japanese (my thoughts and prayers be with them) seem to realize the potential of a world filled with giant, city-leveling monsters. To this day, the Japanese film industry pumps out daikaiju films on a regular basis, though most sadly don’t make it to our shores. What’s up with us Americans? I know we love big budget disaster flicks. I mean, we live in a country where a piece of crap flick like “Independence Day” can make money hand over fist over hand again and yet we can’t create one, just one, decent giant monster picture. What is wrong with us? The U.S. “Godzilla” was a piece of garbage, and “Cloverfield” was no good and…well, I suppose those are the only two I can think of right now. I guess we haven’t really given it an honest go yet.

Well, a new giant monster movie cropped up last year — a tiny independent film written and directed and special effected by one guy, and starring two others you’ve never heard of, one of whom is named “Scoot.” That’s right, just like that thing your dog does across the carpet when his or her anus itches. His parents might as well have named him “Unwanted Pregnancy.”

The movie is sort of appropriately named “Monsters.” Here’s a trailer:

Here’s the gist of the setting: Big, tentacled squid beasts were dropped on Mexico about six years ago, apparently upsetting a lot of people. Now, these creatures wander around a large infected zone cordoned off by the Mexican government, occasionally escaping and wreaking a little havoc on nearby communities. The story kicks off when Scoot (a photojournalist, of course. He sees beauty in the devestation) is ordered by his boss to haul his daughter (the boss’, not Scoots’) across the border back into the States. Of course, it’s not that easy…dun dun dun. First they must cross through the…wait for it…INFECTED ZONE. Gasp.

Don’t get too excited. Although there are giant alien creatures in the film, you’ve only got about 10 out of 98 minutes of them. The rest of movie centers around Scoot and this chick walking around a devastated Mexico looking at scenery that would be beautiful if not for all the tragedy. It’s kind of like visual poetry, I suppose. In a way, it kind of works. I’m fascinated with the idea of trying to lead a normal life in a world full of giant monsters, something which daikaiju films always seem to touch upon but never really completely grasp. There are a lot of scenes in the flick of the two actors’ faces as they stare at something horrible…say, a partially destroyed ocean liner dropped among the branches of some trees or something…their eyes glistening with baby tears. Also, lots of talk about “This is horrible, but also beautiful.”

Occasionally, the monsters show up. These big guys are pretty slick, especially considering they were rendered by one guy — director and writer Gareth Edwards — supposedly on his personal computer at home. Take this with a grain of salt however, because I gleaned it from the internet, which is always wrong. Always. They’re usually shown in brief glimpses, shot from ground level looking up. This works well for this type of movie, giving the creatures a fair amount of believability. Personally, I though the effects were better than those of the big-budget monster flick “Cloverfield.”

The main problem I have with the movie isn’t that there’s not plot (which there isn’t) or very few scenes with monsters (which there is), but that the two main characters just aren’t that interesting. They’re not unlikable or anything, just kind of bland. I felt no real emotional investment in them, and the movie seems to be pushing hard for some emotion. Just didn’t happen for me. Also, as one might expect, there are some heavy-handed metaphors in this thing. I won’t spoil them for you, but if you have eyes and ears and managed to stay awake through the film, you shouldn’t have any problems picking up on them.

If it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, then I’m writing this incorrectly. For me, the quality of any given movie has a direct correlation with how bored I get while watching it. “Monsters” never really bored me. While it’s a kind of prattling story that’s a little too involved with its own self-reflection, I enjoyed the pretty scenery and the overall tone. It was a good movie, though I likely won’t ever watch it again. I’m not a big believer in giving arbitrary review scores, but if you twisted my arm, I’d give “Monsters” four things out of some number of other things.

NOTE: Gareth Edwards was recently signed to direct the new American Godzilla movie. Having seen “Monsters,” I’d say he’s a pretty good choice. Has to better than what Roland Emmerich managed to squeeze out, right?

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