If I am occasionally hard on Roger Ebert, it’s because I expect more from him. Unfortunately, his review of Monsters vs. Aliens is what I’ve come to expect from latter-era Ebert, in that he spends half his alloted verbiage railing about something tangential to the film itself. In this case, Roger hates 3-D for being a gimmick that sullies his pristine, silver screen. Oh, no! Movies aren’t made the exact same way they were the first time he saw Lawrence of Arabia! I can imagine a ’40s-era reviewer similarly bitching about these new-fangled moving pictures having color and synchronized sound.
As film gimmicks go, 3-D is nothing new. While not technically the first stereoscopic movie, 1952’s Bwana Devil is credited with kicking off the 3-D boom of the mid-century. It’s come and gone over the years, but the big difference between, say, the original House of Wax* and Monsters vs. Aliens is that nowadays the 3-D effect works really well. Thanks to modern digital projection systems–which Ebert also railed against, even though they seem to have virtually eliminated framing and focus problems at the local multiplex–3-D is now every bit the eye-popping experience the innovation originally promised.
As for the portion of his review which actually addresses the film, I honestly don’t know what movie he saw, but it wasn’t the one that unspooled in front of the audience with which I sat this afternoon. (Actual Ebert line: “I suppose kids will like this movie, especially those below the age of reason.”) Judging by the laughter, both kids and adults found it very entertaining. I know that I laughed hard and often at both the silly sight-gags and the many, knowing winks to sci-fi films of ages past. (Among my favorites was a take on the giant hypodermic needle gag from The Amazing Colossal Man.)
Ebert attempts to make a point about “wit” by trying to be ever so clever, but in his haste to line up his bon mots, incorrectly identifies the film as a Disney product. I doubt Unca Walt (or Unca Spielberg, for that matter) will appreciate that.
Now look, in terms of storytelling, this is by no means a Pixar-level film. (Though I’d argue that it’s easily the equal of Cars.) It just wants to be spectacular and silly, and it succeeds admirably at both. There’s also a welcome dose of Girl Power that so far Pixar has largely overlooked in its male-centric tales.
You won’t encounter many surprises in the plot, but the jokes come fast. Most of the best lines are courtesy of Seth Rogen as the clueless, charming B.O.B., a brainless blob who at one point hits on a dish of Jell-O. I was also very fond of Dr. Cockroach, with his pencil-thin Vincent Price mustache, and the pop-eyed, enormous Insectosaurus.
And 3-D might be a gimmick, but if the reaction of the kids in the audience was any indication, this time it’s here to stay. Every time something blew toward the screen, they ooo-ed, aah-ed, and howled with delight. Just as the movies went widescreen in the ’50s to combat television, the motion picture industry will continue to embrace 3-D and IMAX as experiences that aren’t easily duplicated at home.
*House of Wax gets its own reference in Monsters vs. Aliens, when an early scene duplicates the paddle-ball-in-the-face effect from the old Vincent Price flick.