Thursday, 28 December 2006

Monster House (2006)

Monster House

2006 hasn't been a good year for CGI animations. The film companies have recognised that whilst expensive to produce any CGI 'toon is pretty much guaranteed to turn in a hefty profit. There is a seemingly insatiable appetite from the public for something to take the kids to, regardless of the quality of what that something might be. So this year we've been deluged by CGI variations on a theme, with talking animals going on an adventure being the choice of theme for most. Invariably these variations have involved distinctly sub-par plots and less than stellar visuals too, with even the mighty Pixar losing a little of their usual magic in the rush to get Cars to market so that it can generate all that much-needed merchandising revenue.

So it's a mighty relief when a film like Monster House comes along. It's original, beautifully directed, and is never overly predictable. Unfortunately it's also rather scary, such that it's only really suitable for children over the age of 12 - which means box office potential is somewhat limited. And there's little merchandising opportunities too. How on earth did this film get the green light? (Clue: It's executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg).

The plot is, on the surface, relatively straightforward: Halloween is approaching and when the curmudgeonly owner of the house opposite young hero 'DJ' has a seemingly terminal heart attack, the house starts to take on a life of its own. DJ and his chubby chum Chowder, and the extremely precocious but pretty Jenny, try to get to the bottom of the evil goings-on, and find themselves with more than they bargained for.

The dialogue in Monster House is beautifully written, and the film plays 'older' than its advertising might lead you to believe - check out the sales spiel from Jenny when she goes house-calling with her Halloween cookies for one of the funniest bitch-rants since Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off air. The CGI is gorgeous and the way the director takes maximum advantage of the medium, inventing 'crane shots' and zooms that would be impossible in the real world, is often stunning. And, perhaps most importantly of all, just when you think you know where the film is going, it throws another curve-ball at you. The characters are interesting and diverse, without falling into the 'characterisation by numbers' stereotypes that too many of these films tend to go with. All-in-all the film's a real treat.

Monster House screencap

As one would expect from a computer-generated feature, the picture quality on the DVD is stunning. There's excellent use of surround sound too, although a DTS sound track is missed. The DVD comes packaged in a cardboard outer sleeve that opens up with a rotating dial that enables the picture displayed on the front to be changed. A chapter index is also included inside the packaged Amray case.

Extra's wise there's an interesting fast-paced commentary (aimed very much at adults rather than kids), and several short featurettes that talk the viewer through the design of the characters and much of the production process, much of it involving innovative motion capture used as the basis for the CGI work.

If you're not a typical fan of this kind of 'family' film you might be pleasantly surprised by this offering, which comes recommended and is certainly better than most of its contemporaries that have dominated the box office over the last twelve months.

Monster House screencap

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