Spike has turned a beloved ten-page kids book into a dark, psychological grown-up divorce drama acted out by a confused kid and large, brown, dangerous puppets. We’re not sure how we feel about this. I’m pretty sure I like the movie. It’s different as hell, seems a ballsy move to have made it at all. Don’t know how much of Spike’s (or co-writer Dave Eggers’) vision made it intact, vaguely recalling rumors of delays and studio-mandated CG puppet-enhancement. Whoever meddled in whose affairs, the monsters came out looking great.
Trouble: handheld camerawork provides no sense of composition most of the time, and fantasy world and characters are all painted in shades of brown. The filmmakers are creating a ten-year-old’s escapist fantasy realm, and all we get is brown? Suppose it’s a natural-environment thing, since he’s fleeing civilization for the wilderness. The music is alright, but the quiet version of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” on the trailer was so beautifully suited to the imagery, I’m tempted to say I liked the preview better than the film.
Young (imaginative, loner, duh) Max and his older sister live with beleagured mom Catherine Keener. Divorced dad isn’t in the movie, except once by phone, but mom is dating a guy, probably third-billed Mark Ruffalo who I didn’t recognize for the 45 seconds he was in the film, when Max goes on a rage, runs away in his monster pajamas and dreams a perfect world where he gets to be king of the monsters and have fun all the time.
Just kidding – Max dreams up monsters who are as moody as himself, always quarrelling and splitting up like his parents or going off to hang out with their cool friends like his sister, building beautiful things then destroying them in temper tantrums, hurting each other accidentally or on purpose, and often threatening to eat Max up. After an hour of this, nothing is resolved and Max goes home… just like real life, but not much like the hollywood spectacle we were all expecting.