Monster House
By: Rod Williams on September 21, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Gil Kenan
Voices: Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Mitchel Musso, Catherine O'Hara, Kathleen Turner, Fred Willard
Screenplay: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
Country: USA
Australian Release Date: September 14, 2006
Distributor: Columbia Tristar
Duration: 91 minutes
Columbia Tristar's Monster House begins with the utterly terrifying revelation that Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis were executive producers. That data pretty much killed any hopes that the film might take a few risks and have its own identity. No, quite the opposite. Despite some okay elements, Monster House winds the clock back to the days before Pixar changed feature-length animation forever. The plot of Monster House is predictable and the young protagonists are all throwbacks to the 1980s: Monster House is little more than a 3D computerised remake of The Goonies. Arggh! Where's the exit!?!

Sensitive goodie two-shoes DJ (Mitchel Musso) lives across the street from a scaled-down version of the Munster Mansion, which is presided over by cranky lawn Nazi, Mr Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi with a throat infection). With his parents away, DJ and his podgy mate Chowder (Sam Lerner) incur the wrath of old Nebbercracker by trespassing on his property to reclaim a lost basketball. In the process they discover that the house itself is possessed by a malignant spirit of some kind. Frightened yet intrigued, the boys recruit feisty redhead Jenny (Spencer Locke, Spanglish) to help them investigate further, with dire consequences. Other locals who get involved in the mayhem include DJ's babysitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary) and her metal-head boyfriend Bones (Jason Lee), plus odd-couple policemen Landers (comedian Kevin James, Hitch) and Lister (Nick Cannon, Shall We Dance and Day of the Dead remake). The voice talents of Zemeckis protégé Kathleen Turner and Napoleon Dynamite's John Heder are also featured briefly.

The opening section of Monster House drags. These characters – with the exception of rookie cop Officer Lister and video game wizard Reginald Skulinski (both written as hilarious losers) – are just boring to follow. It's like watching the dull humans from Toy Story for 91 minutes. Even the disaffected babysitter and her alcoholic partner can be found in a hundred other teen films. True, Monster House is aimed at kids. On the other hand, comparisons to richer and more complex children's movies such as The Incredibles, Shrek, The Iron Giant, and A Nightmare Before Christmas cannot be avoided. This is director Gil Kenan's first feature film, and the only noteworthy credit the writing team can boast belongs to Pamela Pettler, who co-wrote Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. One saving grace of the first act is the obvious insertion of adult jokes (a fellatio reference, for one) and mild examples of bad taste humour (a funny looking mutt attempts to lay pipe in the front yard and gets eaten by the house). But none of it would make your grandmother blanch too much.

When our heroes finally enter the eponymous dwelling, the movie kicks up a gear. As the perils that threaten DJ, Chowder and Jenny become more deadly, the animation gets weirder and more surreal. Then, all too soon, like a bad episode of Scooby Doo, solving the mystery behind the haunting dissipates much of the narrative momentum. Which is when the filmmakers really put things into overdrive and deliver an action-packed finale that exploits the 3D gimmickry to the hilt.

Disney's poorly received Chicken Little was the first theatrical release to use the 'Real-D' process to create realistic stereoscopic effects without using colour filters. If you missed that title, Monster House offers a great chance to experience a movie that employs the latest 3D technology. Special glasses are still required, although these specs, which look like props from an unmade Revenge of the Nerds sequel, are made of hard plastic and have clear polarised lenses. They also fit comfortably over existing eyewear (unless you happen to be George Romero). And while Real-D shouldn't leave you with a headache, the constant change of focus will give your ocular muscles a rigorous workout. It's worth it, though: some of the effects are just amazing. For instance, the 3D smoke here looks incredible, as do the usual tricks with perspective and depth of field. In fact, Columbia are re-releasing Monster House 3D in the US on October 6th across 100 screens. For a movie as bland as this one, the 3D treatment definitely boosts the enjoyment level. (In Aussieland, Real-D multiplexes use Kodak JMN3000 CineServers to run Barco digital projectors that display alternate left-right frames, which pass through a 'Z-screen' polariser and onto a high-gain screen, thus giving a bright, flicker-free stereoscopic image.) As for live-action adult films in 3D...yeah, let's get this shit on!

At $17.00 per ticket – even on a cheap-arse Tuesday, which is when I saw it with a mostly young audience – the main reason to catch Monster House theatrically is to witness the best 3D projection to date; it's good value for money. For the mature, seasoned horror fan, be warned that there's too much Hardy Boys crap and not enough Monsters Inc quirkiness in this homogenized fright flick, so normal 2D screenings are best avoided unless you have a niece or nephew to entertain on a budget.
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