Review: ‘Monster House’

The action sequences are too intense for children, and the dramatic sequences are too dull for adults. And why wasn’t this a LIVE feature film?

D.J. (Mitchel Musso) has been watching the house of his neighbor, Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), because of the weird things that happen there; whatever falls in Nebbercracker’s yard seems to disappear (and heaven forbid Nebbercracker himself catch you trying to get it back). On the day before Halloween, an accident reveals to D.J. and his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) a secret: the house itself may actually be possessed by a spirit of the dead.

What must have sounded like like a sure-fire CGI version of The Goonies on paper unfortunately falls flat on the big screen. The one question I kept asking myself over and over was, “Why didn’t they just do this live?” The possessed house (which anyone who’s seen the trailer knows the house is physically able to move) would probably have looked just as good in the real world, so why not just do it that way? Remember the house from Poltergeist?

Motion capture, the art of filming real people moving and the letting a computer apply those movements to a digital puppet, is a wonderful technique that’s worth has been proven, but mostly for live action (see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Lord of the Rings trilogy for details). But in these all-digital, all-motion capture productions, there is something eerily missing about the movement; without live humans as a reference, these intentionally-animated puppets seem slow, unlike films such as Shrek with traditional animators controlling the movement.

The bottom line of all this is that you CANNOT forget the effect; the characters seem sluggish and unemotional with little or no chemistry. A production such as The Polar Express, which would have been very cost prohibitive live, is fine (in spite of the creepiness factor), but it’s so obvious that real children really looking at a real house that suddenly springs of its foundation via computer animation would have been wonderful to see! And since so much of the story’s build-up is based on what the children think, say, and do, it’s hard to keep paying attention when we’re just waiting around for the house-attack payoff.

Having said all this, the house itself and what it can do is the real showplace of the film. The animators have outdone themselves personifying every aspect of the house so that when its full fury is unleashed, all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately again, what happens thereafter is also sadly predictable and even tedious as the unexpected doesn’t make an appearance. When even the total destruction and mayhem seem tedious, it may be time to throw in the towel.

The best suggestion I can make is to tweak up the scenes; there are too many instances of nothing happening and starring characters that pull down the action. As much as I love the house and the concept, I cannot recommend everything else that must be endured for the payoff.

(a one and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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