• Monsters: Dark Continent

    Released by: Anchor Bay
    Released on: June 2, 2015
    Director: Tom Green
    Cast: Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Jesse Nagy, Nicholas Pinnock, Parker Sawyers, Kyle Soller, Sofie Boutella, Michaela Coel
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    A group of army buddies from Detroit are deployed to the Middle East to combat an insurgency. There, they are assigned to commanding officers Forrest and Frater. Part of their mission is to find and rescue four soldiers missing in an area known for both giant monsters and insurgents. Their rescue hits a snag, however, when their convoy drives over an IED, killing several members of the team, including Forrest. The remaining members are either shot or taken into captivity, but Frater manages to save himself and another member of the group. Regardless, the two men’s troubles are far from over; they still have to make it back to camp through a maze of men and monsters, an act made all the more difficult by Frater’s descent into madness.

    The original Monsters was shot in 2010 by a young British auteur, Gareth Edwards, who acted as director, screenwriter, cinematographer, and special effects wizard. The film dealt with an alien invasion in Mexico that left the nation economically crippled and much of it a militarized zone. The main character was an American photojournalist tasked with getting his boss’s daughter back to the United States safely. Produced on a miniscule budget of less than $500,000, Edwards had to rely on a sharp screenplay, strong acting, and ingenious ideas to hold viewers' interests. The critically acclaimed film proved a success, making a tidy profit in British theaters before finding its true audience on DVD and Blu-ray. Needless to say, a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, Edwards had moved into the big leagues with the second American adaptation of Toho’s classic creation, Godzilla (2014), paving the way for another British director, Tom Green, to fill his shoes. Too bad Green was nowhere near the visionary his predecessor was, leaving Monsters: Dark Continent to lumber in the shadow of its awkward but brilliant parent.

    Monsters: Dark Continent doesn’t know whether it wants to be a war film or a science fiction film, and it makes the mistake of having too many irons in the fire at once, pitting man against himself, man against man, and man against monster. With a misleading ad campaign and title, its man-against-monster subplot takes a backseat to the story of a commanding officer driven insane by the stresses of war. Given that the film, as with its predecessor, was made on an extremely small budget, it makes sense that the titular monsters would be only rarely glimpsed or utilized—and to be fair, when they do appear, they look terrific, such as when a gaggle of adolescent creatures run alongside an army convoy. The problem is that anti-hero Frater is too much of a cliché to carry the remainder of the film’s villainy. It’s as if director Green wanted to recast Apocalypse Now (1979) or Platoon (1986) as a giant monster movie but retain the strong human elements that made those films successful. The move doesn’t work, however, despite terrific performances from everyone involved. The characters simply aren’t interesting enough to draw one into their lives. They’re walking, talking stereotypes, The Boys of Company C (1978) without the kind of writing needed to make them come to life. Green aims for realism and gets it, and that’s a good thing; what he doesn’t get is a story worth telling.


    Anchor Bay has released Monsters: Dark Continent with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p hi-def approximating the film’s original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image is nicely textured, with a mild grain field artificially applied to make digital look like film. It certainly doesn’t hurt anything. Detail is generally sharp, offering a Middle Eastern terrain awash in sand, rock, dirt, and pebbles. Hair, skin, and clothes are exhaustively detailed, though filters designed to drain the color from the proceedings does the image a disservice. If the intent is to look like every other modern war film out there, particularly The Hurt Locker (2008), the director has succeeded. The film is gritty and nihilistic, just not original and thought-provoking, a problem exacerbated by its washed-out but well-framed imagery.

    The film’s soundtrack is provided in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It’s a problematic track, with terrific surround but sound levels that are all over the place. One minute a loud musical cue will threaten to blow your speakers, the next the sound drops so low that voices cannot be made out. The solution is to either hold the system’s remote in your hand and adjust the sound accordingly, or watch the entire film with the subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired turned on and the sound turned down. At least the sound is clear and free of hiss, distortion, or dropout.

    Thankfully, Anchor Bay has utilized a 50GB disc, which offers plenty of space for what is a fairly lengthy film. There are no compression issues in either the image or the sound.

    There are only two extras, but both are worth watching. “On the Set of Monsters: Dark Continent” is a featurette lasting less than three minutes. Towering over the proceedings is director Green, who guides the viewer through the film’s realistic yet make-believe world ravaged by aliens and humans alike. There’s also a teaser trailer, which runs a little over a minute in length.

    The Final Word:

    Monsters: Dark Continent is no chip off the old block. It tries to emulate the first film’s man-over-monster approach, but with a weaker, more derivative story, it simply doesn’t succeed. Sci-fi action is kept to a minimum, but what little is there is effective, beautifully framed, and treated realistically, with strong CGI. Too bad the human monsters push the Lovecraftian denizens to the side. In most ways the image is strong, but the lack of color and the desire for grit does the entire affair a disservice while the sound is a little too eclectic. And finally, extras are minimal but worth watching. People who love both war and science fiction films will find a lot to like in it; everyone else should use caution.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!