Just in time for the February 2005 Oscars, Sony is releasing a two-disc special edition of "Monster". The movie has already appeared on DVD as a single-disc affair with a handful of so-so extras. Now, consumers whose interest in award-winning movies might be peaking due to the Oscar season can delve deep into the making of the movie that marked Charlize Theron's transition from pretty face to serious actress.
Charlize Theron had a heck of a year in 2003. She appeared in the best summer popcorn flick of 2003, "The Italian Job". Later, she emerged from the typecast-as-the-pretty-girl prison with her amazing performance in "Monster". Her performance is so powerful and riveting that she won the Best-Actress Oscar in February of 2004. Sometimes, people deserve the Oscars that they win, but sometimes, they don't. Theron certainly earned hers, and while I think that it's too early to agree with movie critic Roger Ebert's assessment of her performance ("This is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema."), I think that Theron out-acted just about everyone else in at least the past five years.
"Monster", written and directed by Patty Jenkins, is a fictionalized account of the life of Aileen Wuornos (Theron). Wuornos was called the first female serial killer in American history. Her crimes are certainly heinous and what made her noticed in the first place, but the movie shows how Wuornos did not set out to be a criminal. Rather, devastating circumstances in her life forced her to turn to prostitution, and turning tricks meant dealing with evil men who beat and rape women.
Wuornos meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), and the two become lovers as they drive through Florida. Wuornos wants to give up prostitution in order to live a normal life with Wall, but neither of them is able to find gainful employment. Therefore, Wuornos returns to prostitution, and she soon runs into a man who almost kills her. Wuornos is able to fight off her attacker, and her rage against the unfairness of life leads her to killing several other men for their money and for their cars. Eventually, the police catch her, and she spent more than a decade on Death Row before being executed in 2002.
For the movie, Charlize Theron gained more than thirty pounds and underwent make-up sessions that turned her into someone that looked far from what one would call "pretty" in today's world. The make-up plays a key part in Theron's performance since it de-glamorizes the seductive sheen that movies often have. In addition to looking the part, Theron also plays the part convincingly. She projects her character's insecurity by strutting. She projects her character's vulnerability by attacking other people before they can attack her. She projects her character's desperate love for Wall by talking about tackling responsibilities so that she can support the both of them. In the movie, Wuornos may be an unpleasant sight as well as a criminal, but Theron makes us understand how sad and pitiable the character is.
So much attention has been focused on Theron that it's easy to forget that the movie also has another excellent performance. In fact, I think that Christina Ricci should've been nominated for an Oscar, too (in the Best-Supporting-Actress category). Theron probably overshadowed Ricci due to the former's freedom to act "big" given her role, but Ricci has the arguably more difficult task of making it believable to audiences that her character would want to be with Aileen Wuornos in the first place.
On a narrative level, "Monster" is really no more than a simple road movie. There are the usual rebellions, harsh realities, crimes, cheap motels, long drives in cars without air conditioning, etc. Also, although the movie is not even two-hours long (it has a running time of 109 minutes), it feels lengthy because of several slow spots as well as the repetitiveness of some scenes. However, Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci both deliver rich, layered, and complex performances that distinguish "Monster" from similar movies.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen surprised me. When I saw the movie in a theatre, the print was rather grainy and had some scratches. However, the DVD offers a video image that is clean, smooth, and clear. The movie looks a little soft and drab sometimes, but all that is in keeping with the tone and feel of the production.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track also surprised me. The rear channels are very active, and the subwoofer does a bit of heavy lifting. However, any low-frequency effects that are present are meant to enhance the gritty real-ness of the movie, not to "wow" you with window-shaking vigor. Also, the surround-sound feel of the mix has to do with the way that the music was integrated into the sound design. Therefore, the audio isn't as immersive or involving as the audio for an action movie is.
Rare for a low-budget movie (and rare for a low-key drama), the "Monster" DVD also has a DTS 5.1 English track. However, as seen in the disc's special features, the music was designed to be multi-channel from the beginning, so a DTS track was a logical creation.
You can also watch the movie with optional DD 2.0 surround French and DD 2.0 stereo dubs. Optional Spanish and French subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.
The excellent audio commentary by director Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron is definitely worth a listen, even for people who don't usually like audio commentaries. Both Jenkins and Theron poured their hearts into making this movie, so their dedication and sense of purpose are impressive. What's more, given the gravity of the subject matter, there's a real, serious discussion about moviemaking decisions as well as Aileen Wuornos.
"‘Monster': The Vision and the Journey" is a new making-of featurette that replaces the one-disc release's bland making-of featurette. It covers a lot of territory and provides additional glimpses of Charlize Theron's transformation via make-up.
There are a couple of deleted and extended scenes with optional audio commentary by director Patty Jenkins. The "Interview with Patty Jenkins and BT" takes a look at how the music was created for the movie (BT was the man responsible for composing the music). The "DTS Film Mixing Demo" allows you to mix different audio elements to see how a soundtrack is constructed. There's something called "Monster ‘Surrounded'", which is a promo for the soundtrack album. Finally, there are trailers for "Monster" as well as previews of other Sony movies.
There's an insert that provides tasteless promos for violent thrillers from Sony.
I remember wanting to leave the movie theatre when I first saw "Monster". In this case, my wanting to leave the movie theatre is a compliment because it did its job in presenting the grim harshness of Aileen Wuornos's life. However, the moviemakers' skills don't hide the fact that they made a movie from a script that has a basic structure and several slow spots. Still, Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci's great performances elevate the material.
Like other DVD fans without a lot of money to spare, I usually dread double dips. However, "Monster" is a powerful, worthy endeavor. This is a double dip that doesn't annoy me.