Monday, January 10, 2011


Danger Zone!

Skyline and Monsters look like companion pieces of filmmaking, and I suppose that's probably why the same distributors here have snapped both up, and releasing them months apart. For starters, both boast a relatively shoestring budget compared to the amounts that Hollywood blockbusters get poured onto, yet achieving the look that millions of dollars can achieve. With a relatively small cast, both films are brainchilds of directors with visual and special effects background and pedigree, which account for the genre that they have dabbled in as their feature film debut - that of an alien invasion of Earth.

Perhaps Monsters was what Skyline wanted to be, especially since its final act hinted at, and then tried its best to follow through, an emotional core that had proved to be elusive. It had focused on the wow factors, being the special effects extravaganza to draw audiences in with graphics that dripped every frame on screen, but delivered a storyline that wasn't quite bang on target. It was entertaining for sure, but felt empty until its final scene, which was a little too late too soon. There's a certain limit that you can put the effects on screen to keep an audience engaged, before they become background and secondary with the audience clamouring for what's next.

Monsters on the other hand and as the saying goes, under promised, and over delivered, focusing on the emotional front to provide that narrative strength, yet having just enough of that tinge of effects not to overwhelm the narrative. It was also a little bit more ambitious, journeying out of what's essentially a single location setting into a road trip of sorts, where photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is given the unwanted task to escort Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), whose dad owns a publication he works for, from Mexico back to the USA, and having to cross this big divide known as the Infected Zone (think of it like the DMZ between the Koreas, only larger and populated with, well, Monsters) after a screw up in his exit plan for her.

Needless to say emotions will run high as they traverse through dangerous territories almost always bordering on some creature bursting out anytime, only for director-cinematographer-writer-production designer Gareth Edwards to rein in and keep up the tension, both visually when you expect something bombastic to happen, and emotionally when both Andrew and Samantha begin to forge something more than just a friendship, hampered by the pending engagement of one, and the baggage of the other. Following their journey meant we get to know both a little bit more, and go beyond the helpless damsel and hero type, because they just aren't except regular people caught up in an extraordinary situation involving the crossing of borders, negotiation skills, and of course, greasing of the palms if necessary coupled with street smarts.

Those who dig loud, mindless action may be disappointed with Monsters because it is not that kind of film. While you get the occasional attack of the 50 foot giant "octopus" with tentacles that crawl around orifices, the film doesn't allow the action sequence take over and drown out its story. Battles are kept minimal with war of the worlds styled confrontation in the beginning and in a tension filled middle, but other than that it's more drama than anything else. You'll be able to identify which are CG-ed into the frame because they stand out quite obviously, especially with the various military hardware whether serviceable or otherwise.

As far as independent filmmaking goes, Monsters just showed how it's done - fearlessly and with ingenuity, telling a gripping emotional story with two great leads, with effects that serve the story not being THE story. Gareth Edwards had delivered what is in essence a compelling film done guerrilla and DIY style, and with the word that he's handed over the reins of a Godzilla remake and a bigger budget, that's an interesting prospect in itself that hopefully Gojira will be getting the big screen treatment and respect it deserves.

If you have time, do some research and read up on how Monsters got made. It's an incredible journey for the filmmaker and his small cast and crew to get accomplished, and knowing that, it'll probably make you appreciate how it all got assembled together, and be amazed by how much got achieved with so little.

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