A Monster Calls Adaptation

'A Monster Calls' Blu-ray Review: An imaginative tale rooted in emotional truth

March 27, 2017Ben MK

Directed by J.A. Bayona and adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name, A Monster Calls is, in many ways, reminiscent of movies like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. Yet, despite its pronounced fantasy elements, the film remains firmly rooted in the family drama and bittersweet aspects of its narrative, which owe a great deal to the strong performances of Felicity Jones and newcomer Lewis MacDougall.

In it, Jones plays Elisabeth Clayton, cancer-stricken mother to a boy named Conor O'Malley (MacDougall). "Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man," Conor struggles not only with his mum's situation, but also with the fact that his dad (Toby Kebbell) has left them both to start a new family in Los Angeles. Add to that the school bully who's a continual source of torment for Conor, and it's no wonder that Conor regularly retreats into the far corners of his imagination — where he encounters a monster in the form of a Yew tree come to life (voiced by Liam Neeson).

Making its presence known nightly at 12:07 AM, the monster has a simple proposition for Conor. Upon each visit, the monster shall tell Conor a story; and after three stories, it will be the boy's turn to return the favor. Of course, all of this is but a means for Conor to come to terms with Elisabeth's impending death; but even though he's skeptical, Connor is surprised to find strength in the yarns, which range from the tale of a young prince and the witch accused of murdering his true love, to the story of a dispute between a faithless parson and a stubborn apothecary.

It all amounts to a moving allegory for grief and the transition from childhood to adulthood. But what makes A Monster Calls truly special is the way the film interweaves the genres of drama and fantasy to form a compelling work of cinema. Melancholy, but not without moments of humor, the result is a film that blurs the lines between children's movies and more adult fare; and, like any good story, it will stick with you, no matter what your age.

A Monster Calls arrives on Blu-ray looking very much as it did in theaters, with a compelling 1080p transfer that showcases textural detail in clothing and environments, but especially in the organic, sinewy details of The Monster itself, and a color palette that's dark, subdued and low-key, with the exception of the film's vibrant, watercolor-like sequences depicting the tales told by The Monster. The film-like image is accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that's equally commendable, and while the sound design is largely dialogue-driven, the sound of crumbling brick and wood structures, strong winds, rain, rustling leaves, and the creaking and rumbling of The Monster's branches as it moves help create an immersive aural landscape.

Universal's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Deleted Scenes (6:22) - Five scenes ("Conor and Dad," "Conor and Grandma," "Conor and Mom," "Lily Forgives Conor" and "We Used to be Friends").
  • The Making of A Monster Calls (20:30) - A five-part making-of documentary that examines the narrative and its themes, the design of The Monster and the practical and visual effects used to realize it, the actors behind the characters, and what it was like to work with Director J.A. Bayona ("Introduction," "Building the Story," "Bringing the Monster to Life," "The Perfect Cast" and "Working with J.A. Bayona").
  • Making of the Tales (8:14) - A featurette showcasing the visual artistry behind The Monster's tales.
  • English Feature Commentary with Writer Patrick Ness - Ness talks about how he became involved with the project, the importance of the story first and foremost, the actors' performances, the visual effects techniques and more.
  • Spanish Feature Commentary with Director J.A. Bayona - Bayona talks about the film's themes, the score, the evolution of the narrative, the production design and the visual effects, the casting choices, the cinematography and more.

A Monster Calls is available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment as of March 28th, 2017. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 48 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on January 6th, 2017.

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