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A Monster Calls (2016)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/28/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/14/2017

Movies from foreign directors can often be great discoveries for those of us who watch a lot of movies, and director J. A. Bayona has provided some intriguing films including The Orphanage and The Impossible. His new movie A Monster Calls won him a GOYA (the Spanish Oscar) for best director, and while it did not win the GOYA for best picture, it is a good reflection of how talented he is. It is, however, a pretty heavy film and requires a viewer willing to sit through some very gloomy and depressing subject matter.

Twelve-year old Conor O’ Mallay (Lewis McDougall) is a talented artist being bullied at school while simultaneously dealing with his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones), his overly opinionated grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and his absentee father (Toby Kebbell). His life is essentially too much for a young boy, not quite a man, to handle; thus bringing into his life a monster from a Yew Tree near his house voiced by Liam Neeson. The monster calls on young Connor to hear three stories so that eventually he will be able to share with the monster his own truth. The three stories shared by the monster illustrate how complex life is in that for every bad thing a person does, there is also something good they do. For every sad moment in life, there is also joy. Life, as the monster helps Conor to see, is complex, wondrous, heart-breaking, and surprising. By the end of the film, Conor is able to handle the greatest sorrow and loss of his life while also finding the strength to grow and endure.

Simply put, the film is beautifully made. The cinematography deservedly won a GOYA, and the animation of the monster’s stories is exquisite. Watercolors and layers of animation give the stories a depth and beauty even in their cruelest revelations. The monster itself is also beautiful in its grotesqueness and power, and Liam Neeson’s voice gives the monster authority and significance without being scary. The screenwriter, Patrick Ness, brings his book to the screen giving the audience a very well-written exercise in how to deal with the complexities of life and death. The acting is also superb as Weaver portrays Conor’s grandmother with multiple layers- she is obtrusive, supportive, suffering, and pragmatic. Felciity Jones as his mother is loving, frail, strong, and maternal. Even Conor has multiple layers- he is angry, distraught, hopeless, devoted and destructive, even within the same scene. The complexities of the characters accurately mirror the complexities of the situations they face, as well as the mini-stories within the movie that the monster shares. The film gives a very rich visual and cerebral experience.

The only problem, though, is the movie is too gloomy in its tone. Levity is hard to find within the story due to the subject matter of course, but an attempt to give a little more wonder to the story, and a little less darkness, could have helped elevate the picture even more. While darkness and gloom worked beautifully in The Orphanage (do yourself a favor and watch this film if you missed it), it does so because it is a “horror” movie in a sense and that darkness and gloom foreshadows the eventual sadness it reveals. For A Monster Calls the subject matter is so inherently sad and gloomy that keeping such an unrelenting thread of melancholy throughout takes away from the magic of Conor’s discoveries and interactions with the monster.

A Monster Calls gives a new meaning to being uprooted on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The picture is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and even though some shots are dark, the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is very impressive and the image is never soft. The depth is good as well, lending a great deal of realism to the shots when The Monster is walking. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very powerful track. When the Monster moves, the subwoofer effects are palpable. The stereo and surround effects break down the minute sounds of each root leaving the ground. The detail here is very impressive. We also get nice movement of sounds from front to back and side to side.

The A Monster Calls Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director J.A. Bayona. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY from Writer Patrick Ness. "The Making of A Monster Calls" (20 minutes) is a detailed, multi-segment featurette which contains comments from the creative team and the cast, as well as a wealth of on-set and behind-the-scenes footage. The piece explores how the source material made its way to the screen, the casting, and the visual effects, as well as profiling Bayona. "Making of The Tales" (8 minutes) delivers multiple examples of how layered CG creations were used to make the animated segments of the movie, as well as the Monster effects. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. Three of these scenes feel like other moments from the movie, but the last two show Conor interacting with a classmate, and feel like a new subplot.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long