The State of the Monster Address

(Editor’s Note: The following article may contain light spoilers.)

‘Hey monster, where ya been?’

It sounds sort of like a gag line in a Ghostbusters sequel, but it actually poses a great query regarding the state of movie beasts in the here and now. As a 4 decade movie monster nut, it’s fascinating for me to see the evolution (and in many cases revolution) of monsterdom.

I like to think of the modern monster as one that steps outside the standard of conventional and even sometimes clichéd creatures. Suffice it to say, if you are included in the state of the monster address, you are raising the bar or setting a standard. Sometimes the standard has been established and then shattered. Other times the creature completely breaks the mold or even creates a whole new category. As an example, Ripley’s alien nemesis tapped Giger’s strange creativity to bring to life a xenomorph unlike anything done before. In that case the genius development of biology and genesis created a whole new monster zip code.

Of course it’s easy to name legends of the game, so I am only going to cover monsters of the new millennium, 2000 or later. A few honorable mentions do need to be made however. One would be the makeover Godzilla got in 1998. As a long time fan, I found the fiercer, more svelte and speedy beast in the new version actually carried more weight and didn’t suffer the zany image of the first iteration. Additionally, there are other beasts that won’t be emulated in any case. The Thing and Starship Troopers come quickly to mind. There are a few human based beasties that deserve note. The first one to spring to mind is the mutant from I Am Legend. Though set in a modern film, it is a familiar construct based on a zombie/human. Another familiar behemoth that deserves a nod is the remake of King Kong by Peter Jackson. That animal brought the beauty and the beast paradigm to a whole new level and offered the most stunning depth a screen monster has ever had. An honorable mention indeed!

No, we are firmly set in the modern paradigm! This qualification makes it difficult to simply rest on the laurels of CGI alone. Add to that the fact that the movie going public is at a pinnacle of, ‘been there, seen that,’ and you have a distinct pressure to be unique. So, without further ado, lets get to it.

One recent foreign film immediately seems like a good place to start, and that would be the fresh water creature from the The Host. What makes this film singular is the fact that it sets the beast in a fresh water environment which is very rare unto itself, (besides the obvious snake/lizard/crocodile hackneyed hybrid). No, The Host created something even better than a just a different environment, it also made the form and movement of this animal such that you couldn’t really figure out what among mother nature’s denizens it was based on. A big plus.

Another great example of the nebulous creature – or in this case multiple beasts – would be the myriad of freak shows in The Mist. What’s great about this film’s monsters is that some had roughly familiar forms, while others were absolutely alien. Some you couldn’t even imagine what they were and perhaps didn’t want too get close enough to get a view. The recent indie film Monsters really played this sight-unseen trump card to great effect as well!

Sometimes the set up of the alien is such that the actual delivery of the demon is a huge let down. A great example of a pretty good movie that bungles the execution of the beast is M. Knight Shyamalans Signs. How great is an alien that comes to a water world and can be killed by that common substance? Not too sharp, in my view!

Of course I swore to leave conventions at the door, and I cant do that completely. I have to offer reverence to how the dragons are painted in Reign of Fire. The brilliance of the portrayal is in the absolute demeaning of this monster icon into little more than and an ignoble cockroach status. The one male genealogy and the female standard solidified the outside the box status! Obviously, District 9 played this trump card from the other side and made you believe there was very little intelligence apparent in the species. The irony here is the degradation of us humans in the face of what turns out to be a much nobler alien. I would love to see how they are, if the ship ever comes back.

Of the new millennium monsters, the one of the first ones to make a big splash would be the towering bizarre Cloverfield creature. You were once again unsure of what exactly it was. Its structure was unique to the new paradigm of monsters. Almost like it was generated from some of the best minds of computer game developers. Even the parasites that survived on the creature were brilliantly portrayed. As the movie monster line blurred some of that outrageous nature continued in the remake of Clash of the Titans. Now that was a real titan by comparison to the original!

Amidst the freak show, it is even more refreshing to see creature creation stumble into the ‘constructed on purpose’ arena. One so far has really shined in that area, and it would be the hybrid from Splice. As an amalgam of what seems to be many animals, Dren, the biological stew it is, really bandy’s about some newer levels of strange and bizarre. It leaves just enough of a disquieting after taste to be a profound step in a new and different direction.

As the clock on the decade turned over last year it seemed like movie makers were stealing a bit from one another in a familiar cycle of new alien Armageddon movies. The first to show up on the scene with a great deal of squandered potential was Skyline. Those beings were definitely unique in that they were biological swiss army knives that could use most anything as a construction material, even human parts. It was an excellent creature vision that was lost on a mediocre film. Close on the heels of that film was Battle: L.A. and lastly the recent blockbuster Super 8. What Battle: L.A. offered was a much better and more cohesive action feature that portrayed a set of creatures and their tech that was as interesting and compelling as a conventional nemesis. The beast really helped to hold up that story, unlike Skyline.

As I get to the most recent addition to the genre. I would consider the badass from Super 8 as my pound for pound choice for the top of the beastie list. When you add the inordinate power, intelligence, physicality, advanced technology, and the ability to be more than just a rampaging, mindless goliath, you get something that took a whole range of monster traits to another level and combined them into something you never want to be on the bad side of, or ever meet more than once. But then again we see that subterranean beasts are not to be trifled with – as Pitch Black reminds us back in 2000.

I think that’s why I liked the Super 8 beast. The fact that it got away was one thing; however, if it comes back with any number of its compatriots, we’re toast and at that’s a benchmark few creatures have exploited so well in recent times.

With reverence and eagerness,

Rick

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