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Invited by our friend Jean Poulot, who does animation (specializing in a form using sand, in which he does live presentations, quite lovely), Marcella and I joined in a trek to the cinema to see Monsters Vs Aliens.  I went prompted primarily to see what 3D is like these days, as well as CGI animation.  I didn’t think I would have much interest in the film itself, but rather in the technique.   I got a good surprise as I was in tears half the time from laughter.  The story itself is a riff on a thousand movies from 1950’s sci-fi it came from outer space stuff on to Dr Strangelove and myriad films I haven’t seen but the tell-tale traces of cinephilia were evident even to a quasi-virgin like me.   The plot was ripped out of every sci-fi-monster-horror film in the book, but played as homage, and with a weird smart-ass intelligence lurking all over the place, from sharp political jabs to subtle inflections in the various characters’ personalities.  Parodying its sources, it managed to layer in socio-political observations, riff on previous films, and I think had a sense of humor far too rich for most audiences, and certainly so for the children it is ostensibly aimed at.   Today I checked on-line for reviews, and found most of them rather tepid, remarking on the wonderful animation, the 3D, but largely dismissing the story (which was scarcely the point) and just plain missing the darker humors.  Frankly I laughed to tears many times, having to take off the double pairs of glasses to clean up, though I confess I was, in a thin mostly Korean audience, one of the few (Jean and Marcella were laughing too, if not as much as I was).    It reminded me literally and figuratively of another time in Lisbon watching Mars Attacks with a dumbfounded unlaughing Portuguese audience – this film shared a lot of that film’s black humor.   I think the underlying problem in both is a combination of both works being intensely American, but as filtered through the mind of a doper.   If you aren’t or weren’t a user, then I think a major level of both of these films must glide by with what is pleasurable for a dope head likely just being an irritant to the straight spectator.  Alas.


On the tech side the 3D was quite lovely, and after a while one settled into it and it felt normal.  Coupled to the richness of the HD computer graphics, it made for an amazingly convincing other world, which never pretended to be “real” but rather made for a completely engaging cartoon reality.  I was reminded of a long list of things, from

Philip Guston




to Tim Burton

to Kubrick

And I think the film carried a lot of that baggage, for those who could share it.  At the conclusion of the film a veritable army of those who made it floated by, reminding of the massive amount of work such things take.  Having done just a little primitive computer animation I can only guess at what logarithms make for the textures of hair, the gritty surfaces of the alien robot, and everything else so carefully wrought in this film.  Which, once the last credits have rolled away, leaves me pondering whether the massive expense of this folly is socially justifiable.  I imagine all those names made good film-world money:

The production budget for “Monsters vs. Aliens” was about $165 million to $170 million, including that 3-D premium. Worldwide marketing costs are estimated at $175 million, consistent with past DreamWorks Animation releases.

To say, this is very big business.

This is the logo for a Catholic organization…..



  1. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I did see Coraline, which I found wholly delightful. As you probably know, it too was a 3D production. I have to say, watching the trailers for upcoming 3D animated films was really something- the technology has come a long way from it’s lowly days as a cheap novelty. I am curious to see what James Cameron produces in his upcoming “Avatar” project. You probably read the article in the NY Times last week about it. It’s 3D, and supposedly Cameron and his technicians have succeeded in closing the gap wherein the brain recognizes a simulated human figure as unreal. We’ll see. Interesting times for sure.

  2. I’ll have to check this out before it leaves town. The only 3-D I’ve seen was “Beowulf” last year. I was very impressed with the 3-D even though the movie was only marginally good.

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