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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Monster: Special Edition (2003)

"You'll never meet someone like me again."
- Aileen Lee Wuornos (Charlize Theron)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: February 02, 2005

Stars: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern
Other Stars: Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Scott Wilson, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Director: Patty Jenkins

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, sexual content, pervasive language
Run Time: 01h:48m:43s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 043396089587
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-A+ B+

DVD Review

In 2003, actress Charlize Theron found herself with a truckload of pre-Oscar accolades for Monster, a fact-based feature recounting the haunting story of Aileen Wuornos, a street hooker turned serial killer. Now on one hand, I'm thinking, pristine Lifetime cable fare, not the kind of story befitting a major theatrical release. On the other hand, why would a glamour girl like Ms. Theron permit herself to appear so dumpy? Although impressive in a handful of prior films (particularly her turn as a femme fatale in the undervalued Two Days in the Valley), nothing in her range, exhibited at the time, suggested the South African-born actress was up for such a challenge.

I must humbly bow at the temple of Theron in respect, for hers is a chilling, soul-wrenching excursion in quest of any semblance of light inside the blackest of hearts.

Aileen (Theron), better known as "Lee" to the few caring individuals that manage to get past her steely, human force field, is a lonely, unschooled drifter whose only means of survival comes courtesy of her body, which she offers to any man in need of a quick dose of sexual pleasure, a lifestyle that has left her emotionally numb. She crosses paths with Selby (Christina Ricci), a sexually repressed young lesbian who has to keep her preferences under wraps while staying with local relatives. At first, the heterosexual Lee thwarts the advances of her newly smitten friend, but as their sweet, heartfelt and genuine companionship grows deeper than anything she's ever experienced in her life, Lee throws the rules of gender by the wayside. Naturally, when one finally finds such a love, one hangs on to it by any means possible, just as long as it falls within the bounds of common decency. But not in Aileen, not in her psychologically scarred world.

After a short-lived stab at cleaning up her act, Lee is forced back into the increasingly nightmarish world of prostitution, a move that proves almost fatal when a seedy john nearly kills her. Lee snaps and silences her predator. So begins a draining dual existence: hiding what she does from the still somewhat innocent Selby as she desperately tries to support them both—at the expense of an increasing male body count.

What makes Monster such an unforgettable film viewing experience is that it triggers an emotion most of us never thought possible: sympathy for an ultimately dangerous individual. But not to the point of condoning her murderous behavior; in the end, Lee gets what she deserves and pays the ultimate price for her actions. However, it's impossible to forget the roots of Aileen's story as it ravels toward the bleakest of conclusions. Perhaps if a teacher had reached out beyond a classroom; if someone had thought to rescue her; if just one person had had the courage to offer a hand instead of a taunt. Whether we realize it or not, each of us plays a part in the human condition, and what makes the tragedy of Monster linger with the viewer is that we've all known variations of Aileen, and it's achingly painful to witness the potential of any human life go so terribly wrong.

Theron is breathtaking and unforgettable in the lead. Though richly deserving of every honor and trophy residing on her mantle, co-star Christina Ricci should have also raked in a U-Haul packed with silver and gold statuettes for her moving work as Selby, definitely on par with her phenomenal work in The Opposite of Sex and Buffalo 66. It's also a rare knock out of the park for first-time feature director Patty Jenkins. Brimming with confidence resulting in a vivid, courageous piece of filmmaking that matches quality productions of veterans twice her age, it's the best debut effort I've witnessed since John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: An absolutely wonderful transfer that successfully balances cinematographer Steve Bernstein's myriad of visuals that can go from a sunlit Florida afternoon to a murky motel room in a mere second. Sharpness and clarity are excellent with black levels mostly on the money; colors are vivid in the brighter scenes when needed while the eerie nighttime settings are just about perfect.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: When you keep in mind the relatively small budget for an indie-project such as Monster, this impressive sound mix is a jaw-dropping, presented in both English Dolby Digital and DTS (as well as Spanish and French 2.0). The DTS comes out vastly superior with its crispness and superb separations; from subtle but effective natural sounds in exterior locales in the rears, excellently rendered dialogue in the center, and the fleshing-out of composer BT's haunting score at all angles, a truly excellent job.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French, English (Close Captioned) with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Head in The Clouds, P.S., Rosenstrasse, Stander, The Forgotten, Trapped
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Patty Jenkins, co-producers Clark Peterson and Charlize Theron
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Monster: The Vision and The Journey
  2. Five Deleted and Extended Scenes (w/optional commentary)
  3. Monster "Surrounded" Featurette
  4. Interview w/ composer BT and Patty Jenkins
  5. Film Mixing Demo
Extras Review: Those expecting a surplus of expansive new extras to flesh out this two-disc upgrade may be momentarily disappointed when first glancing the back of the keepcase. But for those on the fence, the excellent commentary and near half-hour "making of" make this well worth pawning your original.

The triple threat chemistry of Jenkins, Theron, and co-producer Clark Peterson hooked me from the minute they rushed headlong into memories of the first day of shooting—and I couldn't stop listening until the credits went dark. Constantly teetering on the edge of time to shoot specific scenes, only 28 days to work with, an untested first-time director about to pull her hair out, amazing character actors, camera guys on roller skates and the tracking down of former Journey lead vocalist Steve Perry for permission to use Don't Stop Believin' in a pivotal scene amongst dozens of behind-the-lens tidbits, it's an informative, fun, and incessantly listenable track (and how cool is it to discover the rumored-to-be-difficult Journey heartthrob turns out to be a sweetheart. I knew it!)

Equally watchable is Monster: The Vision and the Journey, a half-hour documentary containing lots of B-roll footage and extensive interviews with Theron and Jenkins dealing with the challenges of going into a very dark place from their individual perspectives. One moment that stuck with me for days was the filming of a pivotal murder sequence that dramatically cuts to black in the main film. As the featurette crew continues to roll, we see Theron drop to her knees, dissolving into a river of tears that only grows more intense as Jenkins yells cut, and rushes to her lead actress' side to console her after a gut-wrenching emotional outburst that will probably be included in many cinematic retrospectives for ages to come.

Truly riveting video.

In addition to deleted and expanded scenes with optional commentary from Jenkins (demonstrating how you can turn an already impressive film into a classic by simply dropping dialogue here and there), the rest of the bonus material residing on Disc 2 are repeats from the original release (a joint interview with Jenkins and composer BT, a do-it-yourself film mixing demo, and the Monster: Surrounded featurette). A huge gallery of trailers for artsy Sony fare and a pair of trailers for the original film complete the extras.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Whether you have been patiently waiting for a special edition to arrive, or a first-timer playing catch up with Oscar-honored films missed on their initial theatrical go-round, Monster: Special Edition scores not only as a worthy upgrade, but a brilliant piece of cinema that belongs in every quality minded film library. Highest recommendation.

 


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