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Monsters vs. Aliens 3D(2009)
When California girl Susan Murphy is unwittingly clobbered by a meteor full of outer space gunk on her wedding day, she mysteriously grows to 49-feet-11-inches tall. Alerted to the threat of this new monster, the military jumps into action and Susan is captured and secreted away to a covert government compound. There, she is renamed Ginormica and placed in confinement with a ragtag group of other monsters: the brilliant but insect-headed Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.; the macho half-ape, half-fish The Missing Link; the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B.; and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus. Their confinement is cut short, however, when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins storming the country. In a moment of desperation, The President is persuaded by General W.R. Monger to enlist the motley crew of Monsters to combat the Alien Robot and save the world from imminent destruction.
For more about Monsters vs. Aliens 3D and the Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray release, see Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 21, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Writer: Maya Forbes
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson
» See full cast & crew
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray Review
The first Full HD 3D Blu-ray disc is here, but it's not without drawbacks.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 21, 2010
It's fitting that DreamWorks' Monsters vs. Aliens is the first 3D Blu-ray out of the gate; its March 2009 theatrical release ushered in a new era of sorts, the movie the first ever feature to be generated in stereoscopic 3D from the start rather than filmed or, as the case may be in the digital realm, rendered in a traditional 2D landscape and only after the fact tweaked for 3D viewing. It's with much excitement that this disc is finally here, and while the 1080p 3D HD presentation is excellent, the overall package does suffer from a few shortcomings that are likely to only help in swaying many away from 3D for the time being, chief among them the simple lack of availability of this -- or any -- title on the market for a reasonable price. Negatives aside but certainly to be discussed further down in the review, Monsters vs. Aliens delivers an intense and altogether fun 3D viewing experience; considering that this is the first disc on the market and was enjoyed on a first-generation 3D-enabled television set (more info on Panasonic's wonderful 50" 3D HDTV plasma display here), the future looks very bright for 3D Blu-ray considering how good this video presentation proves to be, and on the very first try at that.
This review will deviate from the norm, focusing on the total 3D experience rather than providing an analysis of the movie itself, which may still be found -- and still applies -- under the review of the original 2D Blu-ray release of Monsters vs. Aliens. As the availability of titles widens, and releases are granted a 3D transfer from the get-go, future 3D reviews will follow the more traditional Blu-ray.com review format, but the importance of the title and the novelty of the technology, in this case, supersedes an analysis of the film, particularly given that it's already been covered and is about the only major component that has gone unchanged between the 2D and 3D releases. It's also important to note that the Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray reviewed herein was watched on the above-referenced Panasonic TC-P50VT20 3D TV, and not any of Samsung's currently-available LED 3D HDTV televisions with which this disc is bundled as an "exclusive," yet still available for purchase with two pair of 3D glasses that operate only in conjunction with Samsung's 3D sets. Unfortunately, a direct comparison as to how the title fares on each manufacture's displays -- in the same environment -- is not possible at this time, but the purpose of this review is to provide an overview of what home 3D viewing is capable of, regardless of the display.
DreamWorks' 3D Blu-ray release of Monsters vs. Aliens may be viewed in either 2D or 3D modes; Panasonic's DMP-BDT300 3D Blu-ray player allows for users to choose whether to immediately play all inserted 3D discs in 3D, or to select either version via a pop-up screen before playback begins. Both versions on this disc offer identical audio and supplemental features through a uniform menu screen (which is also displayed in 3D when the 3D version is selected). The disc was also inserted into a PlayStation 3 system running the latest firmware (v. 3.21) to see if it would play the 2D version; the system simply failed to read the disc. The 3D experience begins with the menu screen; it's a nifty addition to see the menu options seemingly floating in front of the television screen, but the fun really starts once the movie begins. Monsters vs. Aliens opens with an establishing shot of a planet that's orbited by a rocky ring formation that seems to float and protrude from the set, followed by a static shot of a planet that seems to literally be hovering in the middle of the screen, offset by a static star-clustered backdrop that seems far distant from the planet, the combination delivering an exceptional sense of depth. That's the strong point of 3D encapsulated, right at the beginning of the movie; it's a seemingly minor visual, but the format's ability to give it such a sense of space -- even something as simple as an immobile round object set against an unchanging background -- makes for an all-new way to experience the environments within movies. It also opens a brand new field of technical appreciation for the work and artistry that goes into making these 3D movies look so fantastic, right down to the most ordinary of shots that offer breathtaking visuals even through the most routine of elements.
Fortunately, Monsters vs. Aliens provides quite a bit more than just dimensional static imagery. There are plenty of highlights -- 94 minutes worth, to be exact -- but the movie's opening minutes prove enough to provide some solid examples of what both the movie and the 3D format have to offer. Snowflakes as seen in the first on-Earth shot appear to swirl not only on the screen but through it; even these tiny objects seem to occupy a real space that allows for a very natural-looking shot, no matter the size of the flakes or the density of the snowfall. Following that is one of the few obvious "gimmick" scenes in the movie, a paddleball that seems to shoot straight out of the screen. The effect is impressive to say the least; this was one area where older "anaglyph" 3D movies worked fairly well, and it translates superbly to full HD 3D, too, though it is understandably overshadowed by the far stronger sense of depth and generally clean lines that are a result of the relative absence of "ghosting." A shot inside a wedding chapel in chapter three that looks down the isle towards the altar and subsequently back towards Susan as she walks forward proves, perhaps, the best in the movie; it positively places the viewer in the church, and never before for home viewing has a location appeared so real (even though it's animated) as it does here. These shots give new meaning to "being there," and they engender a desire to watch something similar that's been filmed in the real world to see how it would stack up to what is arguably the best series of shots in the movie. Even the film's title cards, which appear prior to the wedding scene, impress; they seem to simply hover in front of the screen, and they're sharp as a tack, too.
Though there's never really any doubt as to how good the sense of depth is throughout the movie, it's worth hitting the "status" button on the Panasonic remote to really see just how good the 3D HD material looks. Pressing that button twice on Panasonic's 3D Blu-ray player's remote brings up a graphic across the top of the screen the provides information on the chapter number, time played, and time remaining. It's a flat graphic (provided that the player's "pop-out" level is set to "0;" if it is set to any of the ranges between "1" and "4," the player's graphical interfaces, including the status bar, will appear in 3D during 3D playback) and one that's not influenced by the 3D material; though it obscures anything it sits on top of, the material that's still visible below it only appears accentuated in the way it seems to settle off the front of the screen and move back deep within its bowels, with the graphic a marker of sorts that delineates where 2D imagery begins and ends under "normal" viewing conditions. For as good as Monsters vs. Aliens looks, there are some minor issues with both the encode and the physical act of viewing the material, though such problems are few and far between. Though more suited for discussion in the "video" portion of the review, it's worth noting now that, yes, there are some infrequent instances of clearly-visible "ghosting," but such is definitely the exception to the rule, at least on Panasonic's 3D TV. Additionally, Panasonic's glasses are far bulkier than Samsung's, and while eye strain proved a non-issue during the 94-minute film, the weight of the glasses -- most of which settles onto the nose -- can become an annoyance and, sometimes, a frustration. Overall, however, the quality of the 3D viewing experience is heretofore unparalleled in the home; it's practically seamless, in fact, compared to the old and grossly inconsistent anaglyph 3D presentations, even those on Blu-ray (see, for instance, The Polar Express, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and My Bloody Valentine). Better colors, sharper images, and significantly less ghosting more than make up for the hassle of having to wear the heavy glasses, and for anyone with the means to do so, whether in the home or in-store, it's worth comparing this new 3D technology and anaglyph 3D back-to-back -- preferably with the same material such as the short film B.O.B.'s Big Break which appears in full 1080p 3D on this disc and in anaglyph 3D on the old 2D Blu-ray disc -- simply to marvel at the drastic increase in every single area of the viewing experience. Simply put, Monsters vs. Aliens' 3D Blu-ray presentation looks just as good as its 2D Blu-ray counterpart in terms of color, detail, sharpness, and all the other major factors that contribute to a more "traditional" top-quality Blu-ray release, with the added bonus of a practically seamless high definition 3D effect.
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's really nothing with which to compare this 1080p, 3D, 2.35:1-framed transfer from DreamWorks, but it nevertheless impresses a great deal in terms of not only the generally seamless 3D presentation, but in the usual array of criteria such as detail and color reproduction as analyzed while in 3D playback mode. As to the basics first, fine detail holds up incredibly well -- looking as good as the 2D version, in fact -- throughout. Many early outdoor scenes feature some short but wavy grass that never looks clumpy and, in several scenes, practically each blade may be counted on the screen. A gazebo as seen in chapter three nicely showcases excellent wood textures, a faded paint job, and various scratches and chips in the white paint. Freckles are distinct on Susan's skin, and wrinkles on an older character show good realism and add plenty of fine texture to an aging face. Viewers will be able to see individual strands of fur on Insectosaurus' body, and they're even more impressive in several close-up shots as each strand seems to move to and fro in the 3D realm. Colors, too, are excellent; whether the rusty orange color of the Golden Gate Bridge or B.O.B.'s bright blue gelatinous body, all hues both bright and dark sparkle throughout, even through the lenses of the 3D glasses. The movie features several dark scenes, too, and black levels hold up very well, never masking any crucial or background detail in the image.
As described at length above, the 3D sensation is nearly flawless, save for several instances of "ghosting," noted at the 18:30 mark as W.R. Monger flies around the compound on his jet pack; on the alien robot at 37:55; on a floating spoon at 47:38; and in several other shots throughout. Again, it cannot be stressed enough that such instances are the exception rather than the rule; the vast majority of the image is as smooth and distortion-free as one can imagine. Though the original 2D release of Monsters vs. Aliens was not available in anaglyph 3D, the companion short film, B.O.B.'s Big Break was; comparing the two one after another, there's simply no doubt as to how vastly superior full HD 3D Blu-ray is next to anaglyph, even with the few hiccups incurred through the course of the film and, to a lesser extent, B.O.B.'s Big Break. It's really like a transition from watching a worn VHS tape to a top-rated Blu-ray disc. For those that are curious, the bitrate during 3D playback hovers around the 17-20 Mbps range, and the picture is encoded using the standard MPEG-4 codec. Also, please note that all screenshots are taken directly from the 2D version of the film that's found on this 3D disc. Pictures 16-20 are camera stills of the 3D HDTV screen during 3D playback.
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, this particular edition of Monsters vs. Aliens arrives on Blu-ray with a collection of lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks; gone is the superb lossless mix that accompanied the standard 2D release. Disappointing? Yes. The end of the world? No. Time to push the panic button? Far from it. Certainly, every Blu-ray release at this point in time should include a lossless soundtrack, even if it is a re-release that's a brand-exclusive and promotional tie-in that's not for individual retail sale. Granted, as the first 3D Blu-ray release, all the focus is on the picture quality, and rightfully so. Still, the soundtrack is a vital component to any movie-watching experience, and it's likely that many early adopters of the 3D technology are home theater enthusiasts with a demand for and with a set-up that's capable of playing high definition soundtracks. This will certainly need to be addressed in the near future -- and hopefully corrected when Monsters vs. Aliens finally earns a wide release as a 3D Blu-ray title -- or the format will continue to struggle as it attempts to emerge from its infancy. As it is, this is still a capable Dolby Digital soundtrack. It's certainly clear as a whistle and delivers some distinct surround information and a fair bit of environmental ambience, but it lacks the pristine clarity of the lossless mix, and even more notably absent is a heftier and more pronounced low end. It's not a deal breaker -- at least not considering everything else at this point in time -- but it was certainly nothing short of a shocking disappointment to see nothing but a string of Dolby Digital offerings inside the disc's menu selection screen.
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Despite a relatively short runtime and the absence of lossless soundtracks, this 3D Blu-ray release of Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't include most of the special features found on the 2D release. The only extras present on the disc include the short film B.O.B.'s Big Break (1080p, 3D, 13:21) and 1080p 3D trailers for How to Train your Dragon (2:23) and Shrek 4 (1:13). Oddly enough -- and perhaps it's a result of the more spacious 1.78:1 framing as opposed to the feature's 2.35:1 presentation -- the 3D effect in B.O.B.'s Big Break seems slightly more natural and deep than that seen in feature film. Take, for instance, shots of floating confetti, birthday party "blowouts" that seem to shoot out of the screen, or any other number of moments from the short; there seems a moderately greater sense of depth and a more obvious "wow" factor than in similar scenes found throughout the film proper. Whether due to the framing, an improved 3D process, or some other variable(s), it just seems a slightly better all-around experience, but that's not to diminish how strong the movie itself looks in 3D.
Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This Monsters vs. Aliens 3D release will be remembered as the first full-length, 3D HD Blu-ray movie out there, but it's unfortunately not available for sale to the general public, at least not at a reasonable price. DreamWorks has delivered a capable, good-looking, nearly impeccable 3D experience out of the gate, but the goodness stops with the visual presentation. Hampered by the absence of a lossless soundtrack and coming up well short of the original release in terms of extra content, the disc itself is, frankly, something of a disappointment outside of the 3D presentation, which in all honesty, is the major selling point here. Hopefully the off-the-shelf retail version -- whenever that may become available -- will offer a more robust Blu-ray presentation. Currently, the only way for 3D early adopters that purchased Panasonic's 3D HDTV and 3D Blu-ray player to own Monsters vs. Aliens is to purchase Samsung's $350 bundle that also includes two pair of 3D glasses that only work with their branded gear. Is Monsters vs. Aliens worth almost as much as the 3D Blu-ray player? Maybe for the super-wealthy, but for the average consumer, the answer is "no." Would it be worth $20 or even, maybe, a premium of about $30 as-is, with no lossless soundtrack and few extras? Probably, even for those that already own the 2D Blu-ray. On that note, there simply needs to be more 3D content made available now to push the format. It makes no sense for the gear to be out there -- and it's been over a month already -- with no movies available for off-the-shelf sale at a reasonable price. At the beginning of the format's life, it's one thing to have a title or two as manufacturer or retailer exclusives provided there is something else out there to watch, but the absence of more -- yea any -- titles is a major hindrance to the promotion and adoption of the technology.
There is currently nothing but rumor and speculation as to when more 3D Blu-ray titles will be available for sale in the U.S., and most official overseas announcements are still coming in the form of bundled packages with electronics manufacturers. The rumored titles -- Coraline, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- are all animated movies and with relatively short runtimes geared towards children, and how the studios handle the audio and special features on these titles, available at retail or not, will prove just as interesting as any pending firm release dates and price structures. It will also be interesting to see how longer movies -- Avatar and its 166-minute theatrical version runtime comes to mind -- not only look and sound in 3D, but how the studios will implement special features; they'll likely have to be included on a separate disc, if at all. Nevertheless, Monsters vs. Aliens -- warts and all -- proves a winner where it counts the most as the very first Blu-ray 3D title on the market; once the studios begin releasing titles on a regular basis and manufacturer exclusives become a thing of the past, there's no doubt as to the viability of 3D Blu-ray; it's off to a solid start -- minus the lack of titles -- and can only improve in the coming months.
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