"Monkeybone", a 75 million extravaganza from the mind of director Henry Selick ("Nightmare Before Christmas") and starring Brendan Fraser, came out earlier this year. I wouldn't hold it against you if you don't remember it. The picture was in theaters one week and out of theaters a couple of weeks after. The film's rather dark tone was obviously never going to win the box office race, but certainly, I'm suprised a film this creatively done didn't at least stay around a little longer.
Fraser plays Stu Miley, a cartoonist who is doing well with his "Monkeybone" series. He's not quite as interested in that as he is in his girlfriend, Julie (Bridget Fonda), who has really changed his life for the better. Things don't last too long though, as an accident puts Stu in a coma right before he was to propose to her. While he's in a coma though, he goes down to Downtown, a nightmarish world where he finds himself trapped with its fellow inhabitants, including a realized version of his animated Monkeybone (voiced by John Tuturro).
When Stu finds out that they're going to take him off of life support, he finds his way back...only it's not Stu - Monkeybone has possessed the body of Stu and proceeds to cause much trouble. The only way that the real Stu can go back is to convince Death (Whoopi Goldberg) to give him another shot. The only body that's available is that of a dead gymnast (Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan).
There's a lot to like about "Monkeybone", but there's some elements that are rather weak for such a visually inventive picture. I will say that, for the most part, the movie kept me guessing about what odd thing it'll throw at me next - the sets and special effects are terrific and the creatures that inhabit this world are creatively done. Yet, for the most part, and especially when Monkeybone takes over Stu's body, the film begins to rely almost solely on low-level bathroom humor.
Fraser is quite good, rather subdued as Stu and able to go wacky with a capital W as Monkeybone takes over his body. Also funny are Kattan, Rose McGowan as the Kitty who helps him get out of Downtown and Whoopi Goldberg. Bridget Fonda also provided a warm, sweet personality as Julie. It's not quite as strong a picture as maybe it could have been, but I was still often amused and amazed by some of the visuals.
VIDEO: "Monkeybone" is presented by Fox in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Although I've almost always been thrilled with the quality of the studio's releases, "Monkeybone" and its stunning visuals translate to the small screen wonderfully on this DVD edition. Sharpness and detail are fantastic, as there's a great amount of depth and detail to the image, especially with all that's going on in the Downtown sequences. Even the darker and dimly lit sequences come through with a fine amount of visual information.
Little was found in the way of flaws. I didn't notice any pixelation or edge enhancement, and only a couple of minor speckles were the extent of the print flaws. The colors looked terrific, as Downtown presented a wide range of bright colors that looked well-saturated and bright. Overall, "Monkeybone" looked wonderful - Fox has done yet another excellent job.
SOUND: "Monkeybone" is presented in DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The film doesn't quite deliver as much as I'd thought on the audio front. With the film's stunning visuals and the universe of Downtown, I"d think that there would be more surround use and weird ambient sounds. The surrounds do flare up nicely at times to provide some wacky sounds and the music, but not quite as often as I'd like.
Still, audio quality was terrific. Sound effects came through clearly and crisply and the film's score sounded warm and full. Dialogue also came through clearly and sounded natural. The DTS presentation did seem to provide a more seamless environment and improve clarity, detail and offered slightly stronger bass. It's a very fine audio presentation, I just thought that there were some opportunities to make the audio environment a little bit more immersive.
MENUS:: The main menu offers terrific film-themed animation, and transitions take you through the gates into Downtown. Sub-menus aren't animated, but do contain nicely done film-themed backgrounds.
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Henry Selick. The director mainly discusses how the visual effects are done and who among the staff was responsible for particular scenes. He also spends some time discussing some of the footage that was deleted from the picture, most of which is available elsewhere on the disc. Also, he talks about what it was like to work with the actors and points out the history and previous work of some of the more unknown actors involved in the film. It's an interesting and entertaining commentary track, with only a few slow stretches where Selick discusses what's currently going on in the story.
Deleted Scenes: 11 deleted scenes are included and 10 of them have optional commentary from Seleck. Mainly, these scenes seem like extentions (including one scene early in the movie whose extention I believe was in some of the trailers). Some of the extentions could have worked in the movie, but were probably taken out for the reason of time. One of these scenes is also an alternate ending.
Animation Studies: 7 "animation studies" are included. These sequences show the rough animation and how the elements of the scene were accompished. In other words, blue-screen, pre-computer animation assistance, etc. Optional commentary is also included from Selick. These scenes are fascinating, as it's amazing to see the massive amount of work that had to go into each sequence. It would have been nice though, to make this multi-angle so that people could switch back and forth between the rough animation and the final scene.
Also: Photo gallery, theatrical trailer & 3 TV spots.
Final Thoughts: "Monkeybone" is a visually remarkable film with great sets and effects, but it's unfortunate that its screenplay doesn't always live up to everything else that's going on. It was also marketed more as a kids film, but the PG-13 rated picture was actually more for adults. I'm glad that, although the movie was a box office failure, Fox has put out a superb DVD. Great picture quality, audio quality and some really interesting supplements make this well worth at least a rental look.