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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Patty Jenkins
Cast:
Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson
Writing Credits:
Patty Jenkins

Tagline:
Based on a true story.

Synopsis:
Charlize Theron stars in Monster, a shockingly moving film that burrows deep beneath the tabloid-sized headline stories on Aileen Wuornos, the man-hating serial killer executed last year in Florida.

Box Office:
Budget
$8 million.
Opening Weekend
$86.831 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$34.431 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 1/25/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Patty Jenkins, Actor/Producer Charlize Theron, and Producer Clark Peterson
Disc Two
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• “The Vision and the Journey” Featurette
• DTS Mixing Featurette
• Interview with Director Patty Jenkins and Composer BT
• “Monster Surrounded” Ad
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Monster: Special Edition (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 3, 2005)

Why do I have the feeling that 10 years from now, Paris Hilton will win an Oscar for her portrayal of a double amputee with psoriasis? It seems like the Academy loves to reward attractive people for their work as ugly folks, a notion borne out by Charlize Theron’s victory for 2003’s Monster.

With makeup that gives her the look of a female Jon Voight, Theron nabbed the Best Actress prize as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The flick starts with a montage that hints at Aileen’s rough early life and brings us to the point where she almost attempts to kill herself. For bizarre reasons we soon learn, she instead stops into a local gay bar, where she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby meekly attempts to befriend Aileen, and the pair begin what eventually turns into a romantic relationship.

Aileen’s main source of support comes from prostitution, as she turns tricks with passing motorists. One of these goes wrong as Vincent Corey (Lee Tergesen) ties her up and beats her. In a fit of rage, Aileen shoots and kills the man, and she then attempts to cover up the murder.

This succeeds, though she does eventually tell Selby what occurred. Selby’s supposed to return to her family in the mid-west, but Aileen convinces her to stay, and she tries to go straight. However, Aileen encounters only rejection as she pursues a job, mostly because she has no work skills or experience.

With nothing else to do, Aileen returns to prostitution, but she snaps again while with her first trick and kills him. From there, the movie follows her pattern of murder as she becomes a true serial killer via men she picks up as they seek cheap thrills.

Whereas one might expect Monster to present a psychological investigation into the mind of a serial killer, that really doesn’t occur. Sure, the movie tosses out some rationalizations for Aileen’s behavior, as we learn tidbits from her hard life of abuse. Nonetheless, it doesn’t get into these elements in depth.

Instead, the movie mainly exists as a perverse romance. Occasionally I thought they should have titled it Lee ‘n’ Selby: A Love Story, as the movie largely focused on their relationship. Aileen’s first killing doesn’t occur until well into the second act, and the film never much concentrates or seems interested in those actions.

This feels like both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, it makes Monster unusual and unexpected. It doesn’t take the traditional path, and it gives us much more character development than usual for this sort of piece. We definitely feel like we know Aileen before she goes off the deep end.

However, some of the film’s sympathies seem unwarranted. At times it feels like Monster attempts to excuse Aileen’s killings, especially during the earlier ones. For the most part, she only slays mean, abusive men who “deserve” it, and we even see her show compassion toward one tubby sad-sack with a speech impediment; not only does she spare his life, but also she gives him a quick hand job!

This changes somewhat as the movie progresses, and she eventually murders a man who possesses none of the seediness of the others. Even in that case, though, we get the impression that society put her in that spot. I won’t spell out the details, but the movie appears to convey that Aileen was forced to shoot the man due to her predicament, and if the world had treated her better, she wouldn’t have started down this murderous path in the first place.

Clearly Aileen suffered from a rough life, but one can extend only so much sympathy toward a woman who brutally murdered people. Whether or not any of these guys “deserved” it seems irrelevant, and Aileen’s claims of self-defense during her trial appear absurd, with the possible exception of the first killing.

Monster doesn’t slam us hard with its attempts to make us feel for Aileen, and I appreciate some of those elements. It beats turning her into nothing more than a one-dimensional movie villain. Nonetheless, I think it goes too far in this regard, as it extends too much sympathy toward her and not enough toward her victims.

As noted earlier, Theron took home an Oscar for Monster, and I can’t quibble with that decision. She definitely loses herself in the part, and not just physically. Yeah, the extra weight she gained and all the cosmetic blemishes turn the beautiful Charlize into the moderately skanky Aileen, but the actress goes farther than that. She makes Aileen seem nuts but not over the top, and she balances those elements well in a genuinely three-dimensional performance.

More of a warped love story than a psychological examination of a serial killer, Monster mostly works. I wasn’t wild about the parts that extended a little too much sympathy for the murdered, but I appreciated the attempts at balance and depth. The film somewhat meanders during the third act, but it comes to a strong conclusion and remains a fairly compelling piece.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Monster appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A somewhat erratic picture, Monster seemed watchable but inconsistent.

Sharpness varied. Most of the movie came across as reasonably distinctive and detailed. However, more than a few shots seemed somewhat ill-defined and soft. These issues weren’t extreme, but the movie looked a bit loose at times. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge enhancement popped up throughout the movie. As for print concerns, I noticed occasional speckles and bits of grit, but nothing severe.

Given the film’s subject matter, the film’s palette seemed generally subdued, and the DVD replicated it fairly well. The colors looked drab and lifeless for the most part, but that made sense within the production design. The hues were appropriately defined within that spectrum. Blacks were a little flat, but they generally appeared reasonably tight, while low-light shots demonstrated adequate definition. Monster was a decent transfer but not anything more than that.

In the “unexpected surprise” category comes the appearance of two separate audio mixes for Monster. Not only does it include the anticipated Dolby Digital 5.1 track but also it presents a DTS 5.1 rendition. Not many differences popped up between the two. The DTS mix came across as a little warmer and better integrated, but not by enough to lead me to give it a different grade. For the most part, the pair sounded very similar.

In general, the soundfield presented a pretty limited affair. General ambience dominated the flick, as it rarely offered anything more than that. This worked fine for the movie, as it didn’t need to give us any form of auditory fireworks. Music seemed well depicted, too, as the score demonstrated nice stereo imaging and also spread broadly to the surrounds. The rear speakers didn’t do much else, but they contributed a decent sense of atmosphere.

Audio quality came across as solid. Speech was consistently warm and natural, and I noticed no signs of edginess or issues with intelligibility. Effects sounded concise and well delineated, with nice range and no distortion or other concerns. Music fared best, as the score and songs appeared bright and dynamic. Not much about Monster allowed it to stand out from the crowd, but it seemed fine for this form of project.

If you compare the comments above to those that discuss the picture and audio of the original version of Monster, you’ll find they’re identical. That’s because I saw and heard no differences between the two releases in those domains.

However, this two-disc special edition of Monster expands the skimpy roster of extras found on the prior release. This set includes most of the supplements from the first package along with some new components. Look for an asterisk to note the elements that are new to this release.

DVD One includes only one feature: an *audio commentary with director Patty Jenkins, actor/producer Charlize Theron, and producer Clark Peterson. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. Although it falters somewhat during the film’s second half, the trio mostly give us a useful piece.

Jenkins dominates as the group covers subjects such as storytelling and editing issues, research and the reality behind the situation, locations and sets, music, casting, financial concerns, and Theron’s visual and emotional transformation into Wuornos. The acting-related material proves the most interesting, especially when Theron delves into the various methods used to evoke her performance. I also like the discussions of factual elements and liberties taken. During the second half, the track degenerates somewhat into general praise and happy talk. Despite those lulls, this commentary works well overall and can be quite dynamic at times.

As we head to DVD Two, we start with a featurette entitled *The Vision and the Journey. This 25-minute and 26-second piece uses movie snippets, behind the scenes elements and archival footage, and interviews. We find notes from Jenkins, Theron, “Last Resort” customers and staff, makeup artist Toni G, and actor Christina Ricci. The program covers research and attempts at authenticity, Theron’s makeup and physical transformation, takes on the main characters, and Jenkins’ style as a director.

A lot of the information found in “Vision” repeats notes from the commentary. However, the additional footage found here fleshes out the material. For example, we see a few different takes of a certain scene that shows the various ways Theron went for the role. The piece often becomes self-congratulatory, but it’s worth a look as it includes some nice bits.

Next we get a set of five *deleted and extended scenes. Viewed together, these run a total of 16 minutes, 45 seconds. These expand on the Aileen/Selby relationship a bit and we also see some outtakes of Theron’s various takes. The Aileen/Selby stuff feels somewhat redundant and tedious, but the outtakes are fun, especially when Theron improvises Aileen’s job interview.

We can watch the clips with or without commentary from Jenkins. She provides details about the shooting of the sequences, where they would have fit into the film, and why they were cut. Jenkins expands on the clips nicely and presents useful notes.

Monster Surrounded offers nothing more than a quick 30-second ad for the film’s DTS music soundtrack. More information related to that shows up in an Interview with Patty Jenkins and BT. The title implies that the pair sit together during the 15-minute and 43-second piece, but that’s only partially true, as we often find separate conversations. We learn about how BT got the job, his approach to the score and his use of 5.1, and specific components of the track. They provide a decent overview and exploration of the topics, but too much mutual backslapping occurs. Those elements make the discussion a little tough to take at times, but it conveys a fair amount of moderately interesting information.

In the Film Mixing Demo, we find an interactive piece. This lets you check out the amusement park sequence with only the audio elements of your choice. We select from dialogue, music, and/or effects to inspect the various stems. It works fairly well for what it is.

In the Previews area, we find trailers for Head in the Clouds, PS, Rosenstrasse, Stander, The Forgotten and Trapped. (Both this set and the original DVD include ”Previews”, but most of these are different ones.) The disc also includes both the theatrical and international trailers for Monster plus an ad for this special edition DVD.

Does this special edition lose anything from the prior DVD? Yup, as it lacks that set’s featurette called “Based on a True Story: The Making of Monster”. I’d assume this program doesn’t reappear here due to redundancy; the producers likely felt that “The Vision and the Journey” superceded it. I didn’t think “Based” was very good, so I don’t miss it.

A film that will likely remain best known for Charlize Theron’s Oscar triumph, Monster works well as a whole. It sputters at times and becomes a little too touchy-feely in the way it treats its main character, but the overall result seems solid. The DVD presents moderately flawed but generally decent picture plus positive audio. The roster of extras offers decent information but not much that’s truly special; the commentary occasionally veers into excellence, though.

When it comes to recommendations, I can say that if you want to own a copy of Monster, this is the one to get. Picture and sound remain the same as the other one, but it offers a few more extras. However, if you already have the earlier release, I don’t see a strong reason to “upgrade”. You’d do so solely for the extras, and though they add some nice information, there’s just not enough to warrant a repurchase.

To rate this film, visit the original review of MONSTER