Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 27, 2001
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"Monkeybone" hit theaters dead on arrival. Fox had apparently written off the movie, a leftover from Bill Mechanic's maniacal reign, as a loss well before its theatrical release. I doubt I would've even been aware of "Monkeybone"'s existence if not for a trailer that played before "A Hard Day's Night" and the intensely negative reviews that followed. Believe it or not, for a brief, fleeting moment, I actually considered seeing "Monkeybone" theatrically. My six bucks wouldn't have made too much of an impact on its anemic box office performance, as "Monkeybone" grossed just under five and a half million domestically -- a paltry 7% of its astronomically high $75 million budget. If Bill Mechanic genuinely thought a movie as mediocre as "Monkeybone" would top a hundred million, Fox is far, far better off without him.

"Monkeybone" is the brainchild of cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser). I can hear some of you groaning already -- yes, "S. Miley" is appparently supposed to be a joke, and just in case it weren't blatantly obvious already, Stu wears a jacket with "S. Miley" printed in big, bold letters. An animated series based on Stu's twisted cartoon strip has been picked up for a whopping six episodes on the Comedy Channel, but he couldn't care less about the potentially lucrative marketing tie-ins. All Stu can think about is spending time with his sweetie Julie (Bridget Fonda), the medical whiz who freed him from the gruesome nightmares that plagued him for years. After retreating from a Monkeybone party with his sweetheart and on the verge of proposing, a giant Monkeybone doll inflates while Stu's driving, causing his swanky car to careen out of control. Julie escapes relatively unscathed, but Stu's knocked into a coma and stuck on life-support. The clock is ticking, as Stu's sister plans to yank the plug after three months have passed. In the meantime, Stu's subconscious is mucking around in the surreal Downtown, where the comatose pass the time, waiting breathlessly for a reprieve or (cue ominous music) d e a t h! Downtown is much like the Residents' "Bad Day At The Midway" brought to life, and as strange as things seem already, Stu is further shocked to learn that Monkeybone is a living creature of flesh and blood there. Stu's tipped off on a way to cheat death, and just as he's on his way to being reunited with his one true love, Monkeybone whacks him in the noggin with a monkeywrench (witty!) and takes up residence in Stu's body in the real world. While Stu-Bone wreaks havoc with Stu's personal and business life, Stu-Stu schemes to escape Downtown and set things right.

The tagline for "Monkeybone" is "Get boned!" That's pretty accurate; I had a hard time sitting down to pen this review afterwards. The movie's actually rather well-done in virtually every respect, with the glaring exception of the screenplay. I didn't so much as crack a smile once during its 90 minute run time, and there's very little in this world that's more unbearable than a comedy entirely devoid of humor. The acting's decent enough all around, given such limited material. Whoopi Goldberg is the obvious exception, naturally, and even Brendan Fraser's not that bad until he starts hopping around and making monkey noises. The phenomenal visuals in this other world almost redeem the mediocrity. Director Henry Selick, who's perhaps better remembered for his work on "A Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach", carries over the same sort of dark, angular set design in Downtown. The characters and sets in Downtown are simply incredible, and the handful of black-and-white dream sequences also have a depraved, surreal quality to them. It's a mild disappointment that the creativity and momentum from those sequences couldn't carry over to the remainder of "Monkeybone". This isn't a bad movie. "Monkeybone" isn't marred by amateurish directing or inept acting, and it's far from unwatchable. It's just not funny in the slightest, and there isn't enough in the way of action or interesting characters to maintain interest. "Monkeybone" could've been a phenomenal movie if only it had less wretched material to work with, and I hope Selick is able to put his talents to better use in whatever his next project happens to be.

Video: The portions of "Monkeybone" that take place in Downtown are jaw-dropping, bordering on reference quality. Unfortunately, the remainder of the 1.85:1 anamorphic image doesn't look nearly as excellent. A surprising amount of grain rears its head in a number of the exterior shots, particularly late in the film when Stu-Bone and Undead-Gymnast-Stu are duking it out on the balloon. A few of these shots, most notably those with Julie in the frame, are a bit on the soft side as well. I was really expecting to give the video high marks, but this disc falls short of what I've come to expect from Fox. The highly detailed and eerily colored Downtown scenes are definitely showcase material, though.

Audio: I'm (sniffles) still DTS-less at the moment, so I'll have to settle for commenting on the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The soundscape is expansive and rather active, with numerous surround effects used throughout the course of the film. Dialogue is crisp and clear, never drowned out by the bombastic Merry Melodies-inspired score that booms from every speaker. The LFE channel gets a decent workout as well. Quite nice.

Supplements: Director Henry Selick provides commentary to "Monkeybone" and a slew of the supplements presented on the disc. Selick's commentary seems to indicate that he sees "Monkeybone" as a creative success. He doesn't comment at all on the film's disastrous gross, not that box office receipts are particularly important or anything. He does take a pot-shot at critics and speaks at length about how the bravery of genre-bending films like "Monkeybone". Maybe its reviews would've been more positive if the movie warranted those sorts of comments. Selick doesn't seem to be one to crack jokes, and the vast majority of the commentary alternates between production notes and lengthy pauses. I smirked whenever Selick mentioned how a gag "always got a laugh", and although I didn't keep a running tally, I'm fairly sure he said that at least ten or fifteen times. I was a little disappointed that Selick didn't point out any particular scenes or plot points where "Monkeybone" went wrong, but I suppose this commentary is still worth a listen.

Eleven extended scenes, including an additional scene tacked onto the ending, are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. The first two of these are actually great, with the Monkeybone pilot episode having a much more gruesome conclusion and an alternate cause for Stu's coma. The rest are rather dull and don't really offer much of interest at all. Selick provides commentary for most of these, although generally he just says that a scene was cut because it slowed down the pace or it was too much for the Fox execs. "Monkeybone Secrets Revealed" may sound like a dull featurette, but it's actually a series of six blue-screen shots with the stop-motion Monkeybone. Half of these include a commentary with some technical notes by Selick.

"Monkeybone Gallery" is an extensive collection of stills, consisting of conceptual sketches, production art, and sample comic strips. It offers far more than the usual five or six production photos seen on all-too-many discs, and seeing the progression in the art for these characters and sets is quite a bit more interesting than the film itself. Rounding out the supplements are a theatrical trailer and three TV spots, although I can't recall ever seeing any promotion on television for "Monkeybone".

Conclusion: The stunning visuals in "Monkeybone" warrant a rental, but I wouldn't suggest purchasing this DVD unless the loss-leaders mark the heck off of its $26.98 list price. Rent it.

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