Review by Gary W. Tooze and Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Columbia Pictures & Amblin Entertainment
Video: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Feature film: 1080p
BD-25 single layer (feature takes up 19.7 Gig)
1:30:38 - 24 chapters
English PCM 5.1 (Uncompressed), English DD 5.1, DUBs: French DD 5.1, Korean DD 5.1
Feature: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Thai, none
• 7 "Inside the Monster" Featurettes
• Filmmaker's Audio Commentary
• Evolution of a Scene: Eliza vs. Nebbercracker
• The Art of Monster House: Photo Gallery
Standard Blu-ray case
Release Date: October 24th, 2006
Twelve-year-old DJ Walters always knew there was something strange about the house across the street: toys mysteriously disappeared when they wound up on its lawn, and Mr. Nebbercracker himself acted like he had a secret to hide. But this Halloween the house has become a living, breathing monster, and people have started to disappear! The trouble is that no one believes DJ and his friends. So they vow to find out what's inside the house and how to defeat it. But can they do it before it destroys the entire neighborhood and gobbles up every trick-or-treater in sight?...
The Movie : 7.5
I remember noting in the credits for Ratatouille, this advisory: No Motion-Capture Technology used in the making of this film. I immediately thought of The Polar Express and what I found so off-putting about the children: their non-stereoscopic eyes. I thought it might be one of the side effects of MCT, or at least the state of the art at that moment. In any case, my objections to Polar Express’ MCT did not seem to bother me in Monster House. I think partly because I never felt I was expected to see the human characters as animated versions of the actors themselves (art imitating life – or, man bites dog). The very fact that I could recognize Tom Hanks through his various disguises bothered me more than entertained me – like animated versions of creatures in a wax museum. Not so, Monster House. Not only did I not recognize actors beyond their voices, I did not see the animations as stand-ins for real people. There were caricatures, as I felt they should be. Not so much as Pixar would do it, but nothing I felt I had to contend with.
My problems with MCT out of the way, I was left with story, characterization, music – all that good stuff – or not, as the case might be.
This is one of those are situations where a film works well enough for adults - but younger children might be a tad frightened (as my youngest was understandably uncomfortable). Personally, I was quite taken with the story, characterizations and animation style. I thought it worked very well and was impressed with the full utilization of the 2.4:1 widescreen ratio. These 'mis-a-scene' decisions were akin to the production of a 'film' while blending the animation style with grain (see comments below) giving it a unique hybrid aura between theatrical cinema and animation. I've probably watched this five times now (my eldest enjoys it with me) and I was never bored with the narrative design or the progressive nature of the plot. It's fast paced with snappy dialogue and the writers had a strong grip on age colloquialisms - from the pre-teen leads to the jaded babysitter, lackadaisical policemen, grumpy old neighbors and finally parents - an overly concerned mother and impatient patriarch - how typical! Kudos to Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler for the screenplay (from Harmon + Schrab's original story). I was very entertained and thought it all came together exceptionally well - although the abundant excitement-driven climax need not have been so over-the-top (perhaps caving to Hollywood-esque marketing - 'sign of the times', no?). This was much better than most of the digitally animated features that I have seen the past few years - of which, I should note, that I am becoming quite a fan of this new genre.
Video: NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.Initially I walked up to my screen, later analyzing under the microscope of generated screen captures, to see what looks a lot like grain, noise and dirt. How is this possible for a digitally animated feature? Looking even closer it appears to have been an intentional effect possibly to render the final appearance more film-like... and it works! I should note that this is the 2D version of the film - not the 3D I saw advertised in some cinemas. Technically it is single-layered (the feature taking up almost 20 Gig of space on the disc.) and rendered to 1080P resolution using MPEG-2 technology. Even with this being considered one of the lesser encodes I thought it did the job quite efficiently. The opening looked to have some saturation with heavy black levels and darkness present but colors seemed pure - bordering on 'rich' - even with a more subtle palette. Monster House seemed to present that rare 3-dimensional effect that we were so fond mentioning of early in the days of Blu-ray. It is surprising, to me anyway, to think that this Blu-ray is almost 2-years old now. So, regardless of being closer to the inception of this new format, it still performed admirably on my system. You may click the images below to see the full 1920X1080 resolution.
Audio: The PCM 5.1 (Uncompressed) track id s a pure delight resonating effectual sounds that appeared to be bouncing off the walls. It could be aggressive with depth and range or evoking more subtle sounds - having both effects reach the rear speakers. The original music by Douglas Pipes was active and stirring - spreading throughout the room. It is one of the better tracks I recall hearing - top marks! So, how many times have you seen a Korean audio track on an English language movie? Not many, eh! Why so, here? Because it was Korea that was responsible for much of the animation. There are optional English (and many others - including French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, or Thai) subtitles available.
NOTE: Despite the many subtitles offered this Blu-ray is NOT region-free. It will play on Region 'A' Blu-ray machines only.
While not taking advantage of any motion possibilities within the menu proper, every page is readily understood. Let's hear it for the Top Menu, which permits easy return to whatever menu you came from previously – very handy when you're knew deep in a Bonus Feature and you want to get out.
The Extra Features for the Blu-ray edition are duplicated on the SD-DVD, and, unfortunately, not even the trailers are in high-definition. The director, Gil Kenan, commentary is filled with information but does not flow well with several unnamed individuals coming on to bark about this-or-that topic. This gives it a slap-dash feel although I admit to liking some of what I heard. The image quality of the 7 featurettes (ranging from 2-6 minutes each - about 25 in total) is not of the best quality even taken into account its 480 origins. There are several brief making-of segments, that take a peek at production design, makeup, digital effects, rehearsals, casting and music. Overall some decent input from the director, producers and others creating Monster House. There is also a 20 minute analysis of the opening scene entitled Evolution of a Scene: Eliza vs. Nebbercracker where it shows the detail and planning that went into this phase of the production. It is quite interesting and impressive. The Still Galleries are nice, if you like that sort of thing. At least they're clear, abundant and nicely framed. So, no bonus Blu-ray goodies this Halloween but a lot more is offered that we've seen from other new format discs.
BOTTOM LINE: Monster House was fairly well-received - and rightly so - although it slipped under many people's radar. It is fun, spooky, expresses camaraderie, adventure, loyalty and a very mild hint at a first exposure to the opposite sex. It has a very 'human' feel. I thought the animation style was super and loved the infusion of grain for reality. The Blu-ray is far from perfect but looks, and especially sounds, mighty good to me. Those even remotely keen may wish to indulge - regardless if you have children (or not) - either old enough or young enough - to sit with you - perhaps holding your hand for support. Yes, we recommend!
Gary Tooze +
August 28th, 2008