Film Review | Sunday, 12 April 2009

Super Size Susan

With a slew of comic book adaptations and related genre films riding high on the box office wave these past couple of years, it’s perhaps understandable that the roots of science-fiction and ‘creature features’ are largely forgotten by the hordes of teens (and pre-teens) eager to savour the latest incarnation of Batman or Saw.
Although often remade and parodied, films like The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the 50ft. Woman and countless others belong to another era entirely, even if they were instrumental in shaping the aesthetics of the Hollywood genre film. The smooth, metallic CGI sheen that special effects operate under nowadays can’t even begin to capture the creaky charm of analogue wonders churned out on a regular basis over the 50s and 60s. Last year’s Cloverfield served as a reminder of how jaded we’ve really become: a Blair Witch Project-like turn was needed to defamiliarise the genre back into genuinely-scary mode.
It would seem that the now-unconvincing rubber suits, lurid taglines (and the cheesy voiceovers that deliver them) and the laughable Communist paranoia are trademarks of a genre that is ripe only for smug, collage-humour irony. Enter directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. With Monsters vs. Aliens (the title declares its influences loud and clear), they’ve created a labour of love that doesn’t come off as even slightly laboured.
It tells the story of Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon), who gets hit by a meteorite on her wedding day (as you do). As it turns out, the origin of said offending rock is from a galaxy far, far away, and endows her with the dubious honour of super-size (and, by extension, strength). After quite literally crashing her own wedding, she is thrust away from the cosy confines of Modesto, California and her ambitious weatherman groom (Derek, voiced by Paul Rudd) and into a top-secret government facility. Led by General W.R. Monger (an exquisitely laddish Kiefer Sutherland), the project has been responsible for stacking up monsters since the 50s, to safeguard the nerves of the unsuspecting public, “who should be thinking of more important things…like paying their taxes.” But when the villainous Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) arrives on earth to reclaim the special substance from Susan’s body, she and a group of motley monsters are given a job to do.
Pixar have been dominating the 3D-animation field for a while now, having the upper hand over Dreamworks almost by default, with the exception of the Shrek franchise, whose geeky cross-referencing and innuendo reached an audience beyond just the tykes. But with the release of the satisfying but ultimately forgettable Blot, Pixar have now flagged, and Dreamworks are more than ready to take on the challenge with this inspired piece of retro whimsy. Everything clicks: the animation itself is a virtuoso performance from the get-go (even a burger looks stunningly rendered), the plot, while predictable, riffs on genre clichés with glee, and the cast is inspired both in selection and performance. Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, as the reptilian Missing Link, is a good quasi-human arbiter, but his monsters-in-crime inevitably steal the spotlight. Seth Rogen (Superbad, Knocked Up) is delightful as the literally brainless B.O.B., transferring the bumbling charm of his live-action roles onto CGI, while Hugh Laurie, clearly relishing a break from his American accent (in his role as that other not-so-good doctor House) is a perfect fit for the mad scientist with a heart of gold and a cockroach’s body. The only real problem with the film is that Susan looks slightly colourless, when compared to these zany creatures. Hers is a coming-of-age story, a typical trope for an animated feature. Luckily, here it can just serve as a spine for the intergalactic madness to unfold.

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download MaltaToday Sunday issue front page in pdf file format

All the interviews from Reporter on MaltaToday's YouTube channel.


An explanation required


Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email