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The true-life story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute executed in 2002 in Florida after being convicted of murdering six men. While Wuornos confessed to the six murders, including a policeman, she claimed to have killed only in self-defense, resisting violent assaults while working as a prostitute. In 1989-90, a love story unfolds in the midst of the horrors and pathologies of two misfits: Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a drifter prostitute and Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), sent by her parents to live with an aunt in Florida in order to "cure her homosexuality". Nearing suicidal despair, Aileen wanders into a bar, where she meets Selby and falls in love. To keep her and Selby's relationship alive, she continues hooking, only to fuel an increasingly escalating deadly rage, a fury vented with a lurid string of killings and the media's sordid designation of her as the first female serial killer--a monster.
For more about Monster and the Monster Blu-ray release, see Monster Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on September 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Lee Tergesen
Director: Patty Jenkins
» See full cast & crew
Monster Blu-ray Review
For a highly regarded film, the technical treatment on this disc is a shame.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, September 9, 2009
Every movie fan has a certain selection of films they're fine with viewing once, but never plan to see again. Since 2003, Monster has proudly held a spot toward the top of my list, burning images into my head that took years to force out. Now that I'm sitting down for my second viewing six years later, I'm reminded how vicious and tragic the film can be; never pulling punches in the delivery of a story that will naturally divide viewers into two camps. Was Aileen Wuornos a monster, or simply a woman guided down society's chosen path for her life? Wherever you fall along the spectrum of opinion doesn't have much bearing on the merits of the film itself, which remains a fascinating character study of the woman that came to be known as America's first female serial killer.
As the story begins, Lee (Aileen Wuornos played by Charlize Theron) strikes up a blossoming relationship with a young woman named Selby (Christina Ricci). Both woman have been dealt a rough hand of cards, with Wuornos working as a highway prostitute since the age of thirteen, and Selby living as a closet lesbian among her judgmentally religious family. Sadly, shortly after the two women realize they have a romantic connection, Lee is violently assaulted by one of her customers, and forced to shoot her attacker in self-defense. She and Selby run away with dreams of living a good life together, but Lee is unable to find a company willing to take a chance on hiring an aging prostitute that lacks basic office skills. Fearing she'll lose Selby if she cannot provide income for the two of them to live on, Lee takes out a personal vendetta against the morally questionnable men who pick up women in her prior line of work. Convincing herself that all of them are vicious child molesters and rapists, she begins killing and robbing anyone stupid enough to pick her up along the side of the road (with one exception that I won't give away). Despite her best intentions for a life of happiness with Selby, her demanding young lover soon discovers Lee has been murdering indescriminantly, and the two woman are forced to make a difficult decision about the future of their relationship under the watchful eye of the law.
What makes Monster such a fascinating film, is the even-handed approach from writer/director Patty Jenkins. Rather than depicting Wuornos as someone we should feel 100% sorry for, she presents the character in a manner that never justifies her actions, but still demonstrates the humanity within. The early scenes between Selby and Wuornos reveal a glimmer of hope that we know is fleeting (considering it's the damaged nature of both women that drew them together), but creates the foundation for the crossroad Wuornos is approaching in her life. The fact that she takes action during a sexual assault that likely would have resulted in her death, isn't a sign of a monster lurking within, but merely an act of desperation that many of us can easily associate with. Instead, the monster was planted years before, in the form of a traumatic childhood that consisted of unforgiveable atrocities. Her decision to pull the trigger in a moment of panic simply flips a switch, desensitizing her to the consequences of her actions. She begins to view her prey as deserving targets for her vengeance, with the convenient byproduct of easy money. Her evolution into a monster is a gradual transformation that eventually culminates in two tragic decisions that defy justification. In the hands of a less capable writer/director, this story could have been a sloppy mess, but Patty Jenkins never takes the easy way out, subjecting viewers to one unpleasant situation after another, as if she wants us to experience every step Wuornos takes on her path toward destruction. Monster is a complex film filled with complex characters that are difficult to label.
I'm assuming anyone with a pulse caught the media frenzy that surrounded Charlize Theron's transformation into a prolific serial killer during the time the film was released. Much of the credit should be awarded to the makeup department for taking an attractive 28-year-old and turning her into a weathered prostitute, but it's the mannerisms and facial expressions from Theron herself that won her numerous awards (including the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress). It's one thing to gain weight for a role (Theron gained 30 pounds), put in prosthetic teeth and learn to walk like the real-life person you portray, but when an actor can go one step further and actually embody the subtleties of that persons character, it's a transcendant moment of their career. Theron could go the rest of her life without taking a challenging role, and most critics would still have the imprint of what she did with Wuornos in the back of their minds.
Monster Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the MPEG-2 codec (at an average bitrate of 20Mbps), Monster is a disappointing upgrade on Blu-ray. Fine object detail barely exceeds the quality of an upconverted 480p transfer, making this a marginal improvement over the prior DVD release. I looked for textures in clothing and facial features, but despite the rough appearance of Charlize Theron's make-up laden face, there wasn't even a fraction of the clarity I've come to expect from the Blu-ray format. Additionally, black levels rarely exceed a dark shade of grey, and contrast demonstrates a dismal level of differentiation throughout nighttime sequences. As a result, shadow detail remains absent from many scenes (which isn't entirely bad when you consider the subject matter that takes place in the darker segments of the film). On the positive side, there appeared to be a degree of improvement in the richness of the color spectrum, which is especially noticeable during the skate rink sequence early in the film. I wish I had more positive elements to point out in the transfer, but fans of the film should know they'll probably be let-down by the video quality of this release, since it doesn't stack up well in the transition to high-definition.
Monster Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Matters take a drastic turn for the worst when we delve into the quality of the audio tracks on the disc. I can't comprehend how this made it past the sound engineers over at First Look Studios, but there are some awful audio sync issues on this release (both tracks). If the delay were only a fraction of a second, it wouldn't be a huge issue, but I'd wager it's almost a full second behind the lip movements on the screen. Aside from that issue, this is a front-heavy experience with the majority of the audio track resting solely on the center channel. The occasional musical offering meanders into the side speakers, but I rarely noticed any activity from my rear speakers or subwoofer. Improving the audio score slightly, the clarity of the dialogue, music, and environmental effects demonstrate a nice level of proficiency, though I noticed at least three occasions where the dialogue dropped to a degree that made it necessary to turn up the volume beyond a suitable level compared with the rest of the film.
Although the quality of the audio track isn't dismal, I'm giving the overall audio score a dismal rating based on the level of annoyance caused by the sync issues. I'm not sure if First Look will take the time to go back and correct the problem with replacement discs, but consumers should expect more for their hard earned dollar.
Monster Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Making of Monster (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 14:42 min): This intriguing supplement mostly consists of interviews with writer/director Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron as they discuss the lengths they went to in order to bring the story of Aileen Wuornos to the screen. In addition, we're shown behind-the-scenes footage of the film crew on various sets and the physical change Theron went through to become her character.
Evolution of the Score (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 15:43 min): The composer of the musical score in Monster (BT) is interviewed intermittently with writer/director Patty Jenkins as they discuss elements in the film that became inspiration for the score. It was especially interesting to hear BT discuss his use of surround sound division in the musical creations, since I honestly didn't hear it in the final product on this disc.
Aside from those two featurettes, we have a couple of standard definition trailers for Monster, a strange mixing demo that lets the viewer pretend they're a sound engineer, and a brief collection of trailers for other films from First Look Studios.
Monster Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Love it or hate it, Monster is a profound film that tackles difficult subject matter with a ferocious edge. I can't say I was too excited to ever view the film for a second time, but I was equally moved by the portrayal of Aileen Wuornos on this go around. If you've never seen the film, it's worth watching once, but plan to have a comedy on-hand to pull you out of the mild case of depression you'll experience as the credits roll. For anyone who's already a fan, you have a difficult decision from a technical standpoint. The picture quality is certainly subpar compared with other high-definition catalogue titles, and the audio experience doesn't help rectify matters in any way. So long as First Look chooses to not correct the sync issues with both audio tracks, I'll have to give a firm recommendation that you hold off on a purchase of this Blu-ray edition.
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Monster Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Monster Announced for Blu-ray - May 22, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, First Look Studios has revealed that it will bring 'Monster' to Blu-ray on September 1. No technical specs have been announced at this time, though you can expect a 1080p VC-1 video presentation accompanied by a Dolby TrueHD ...
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