DVD Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Amber Wilkinson's film review of Monsters

The extras on this DVD (and Blu-ray) release from Vertigo Films deserve four and a half stars for being all at once charming, witty and comprehensive, with miraculously little repetition of material – and an additional half a star for NOT including the 100 or so hours of deleted footage.

Here the three featurettes alone add up to nearly two hours in duration, but as quickly becomes clear, this much attention is easily warranted by a film shot as unconventionally as Monsters (which was in fact pitched before the release of similar shoestring FX films Cloverfield and District 9). Think of it all as a primer on how to make a film that looks like a million dollars on a microbudget – and on the wing – with only a pile of Filofax notes for a script.

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In their full audio commentary, writer/director Gareth Edwards and his stars Scoot McNairy (Andrew Kaulder) and Whitney Able (Sam) reveal that the film's working title was Far From Here – as the title Monsters, according to Edwards, would scare people off. The Central American shoot was largely improvised in four different countries (often merged through editing into a single scene), with locations and extras scouted on the fly from whatever and whoever was passed on the road. Eventually, once the story began to take shape, there was a second pick-up shoot to fill in gaps in the footage. Filming in sometimes volatile regions, the crew was under constant escort from armed police (who were also inevitably co-opted as extras).

Then McNairy's fiancée and now his wife, Able doubled as the half-seen local woman with whom McNairy's shares his bed one night – and can also be heard providing the voice of a telephone operator. McNairy and Able were actually filmed trying to get through customs without passports, adding considerably to the tension of the sequence in the finished feature; and while most of the background ruins seen in the film's Central American scenes were photoshopped in as CGI, the deserted Texan town of the closing sequence was left largely as it was found after its recent devastation by a hurricane.

"We're making it up as we go along," declares Edwards in the 55-minute Making-Of featurette. Combining a location diary, behind-the-scenes footage and ex eventu interviews with the tiny cast and crew, this extra is dedicated, as Edwards himself puts it, to "the art of guerilla filmmaking". Aiming to inject a new kind of realism into the classic 'monster movie' formula, Edwards made "the less we plan it, the more real it will feel" his guiding principle, placing his two stars in real locations without scripted dialogue, and letting their skilful improvisations coax performances from the real people that they encountered on the way. His tips for any other budding DIY filmmakers include wearing a fluorescent vest on location to make it look like you are there officially, and: "if it looks good, then shoot it."

Naturally, this freewheeling, quasi-documentary approach to the shoot resulted in around 100 hours of footage, which then had to be collated, cut down and shaped into a feature-length story. In the fascinating featurette Editing Monsters (23 minutes), Edwards, his editor Colin Gordie and assistant editor Justin Hall talk through the process of reducing their raw material to an initial four-and-a-quarter-hour cut, and then to its final hour-and-a-half version. They also give tips on how to make one scene look like another through judicious cutting and the addition of ADR.

Much of what is seen in Monsters - from the ruined buildings to the ubiquitous 'Infected Zone' signs and posters to the giant exclusion wall to the monsters themselves - was not actually shot in camera, but added in later via computer through 256 separate visual effects. In the 29-minute featurette Monsters VFX, Edwards shows how he transformed his cinéma vérité into compelling SF using only commercial software and a whole lot of creative nous. He stresses the artistic side of the process, arguing against the widespread perception about CGI that "you press control-M and you get a monster."

Lastly comes the five-minute short Factory Farmed, made by Edwards as part of SF London's 48-hour challenge in 2008. With its handheld camerawork, its realist approach to an SF scenario and its expert use of CG to bring the story alive, the short sketches out the talents and vision that the filmmaker would eventually bring to Monsters. Unsurprisingly, Factory Farmed became part of Edwards' original pitch to Vertigo Films of what it would be possible to achieve on his first feature with very little money.

Reviewed on: 13 Apr 2011
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Monsters packshot
A human/extra-terrestrial love story cum road movie.
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Product Code: MP1094D

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.78:1

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1

Extras: Full audio commentary, Behind-the-Scenes featurette, Editing Monsters featurette, Monsters VFX featurette, Factory Farmed short film

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