Directed by Gil Kenan, 2006
Monster House was my first theatrical exposure to 3D and it was, frankly, one of the most memorable movie experiences I’ve ever had. It doesn’t hurt that the movie hits all the right notes, but that third dimension…my god. It’s not just a gimmick, it’s not just eye candy, it’s mind altering and should not, not, not be missed! I can’t recommend movies more than I can Monster House in 3D.
But more on the digital work later, let’s talk about the movie.
Monster House is not a kids movie. In fact, I’d wager to say that a very large percentage of parents who take their youngsters to go see it without having checked it out first for themselves will regret doing so. It’s an ’80s adventure tale of growing up that is not – at all – far from The Goonies or, especially, The Monster Squad. And, like those films, Gil Kenan’s Monster House isn’t afraid to be morbid and show its horror roots. Hell, the first time I saw it (yes, I’ve seen it in 3D twice now!), I was shocked at what happens in the first couple minutes. I’ve no doubt that what happens between DJ and Nebbercracker gave some kid terrible nightmares. Even masked in CGI, it’s a very real, shockingly effective scene. And that’s only a taste of things to come.
It’s a great story, because everyone had at least one house in their neighborhood where people would talk about the crazy old person who lived inside (there were several for me, including an old lady who would give you candy if you hugged her!). You and your friends would make up stories about what went on inside, all Monster House does is bring that imagination to life with surprising accuracy.
And it is funny as hell. Chowder, the goofball fat kid, may be just a CGI’ed version of Chunk, but he is hilarious all the same. Jon Heder is comic perfection as Skull, the arcade playing pizza geek who imparts wisdom onto the children. He is, yet again, just doing one of many variations on Napoleon Dynamite, but it works wonderfully and provides many smiles which are impossible to suppress.
Gil Kenan’s direction is awe inspiring. Being entirely digital, animated films have free reign over all camera work, but few of the Dreamworks/Disney flicks of the past deliver the same quality work as Kenan did here. Some of the shots are remarkably dynamic and full of the same soul that actual film has. Motion Captured CGI gets a lot of heat for removing any humanity from human characters, but the work here is light years ahead of wooden affairs like the Polar Express. The voice work may not always synch up flawlessly with the lips, but Gil Kenan’s direction over tones and pitch is fantastic, making some of the under-the-breath dialogue the best in the movie: "Blood, look at all the blood!", "I love you vacuum cleaner dummy!", "Ah, taste my blade, the steel so cold!"
The 3D work is phenomenal. The last run of the film, which features the house in all its monsterfied glory, is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a theater screen in my entire life. It had the same effect as seeing the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park for the first time. It’ll make you revert back to being a kid again, when movies felt like something to be discovered. It’s an amazing feeling and I can not wait for more 3D films to come.
Go here for a full list of all the theaters that are playing it as it should be seen. And get there early. I never really cared for the movie before, but the trailer for the re-release of a severely upgraded Nightmare Before Christmas had me practically drooling to see it in 3D.
I feel like going to the movies was just redefined for me. Monster House made me feel like a kid again and I love it. I’m pulling out that cliche marketing card, but if you see one movie this summer, make it Monster House in 3D – it is well, well worth it, even if you have to drive for an hour just to reach a theater playing it.