Monsters; a Creature Feature on a Budget

Monsters PosterI finally watched the much-discussed sci-fi movie Monsters last night. I had been eager to see the movie since it first debuted at SXSW in March 2010. Much of the talk around the movie was about the relatively low production budget of $500,000 USD and the special effects which were produced by off-the-shelf software by the movie’s director Gareth Edwards.

To judge this movie against big-budget monster movies from Hollywood may be unfair, but Edwards did more with 500k than some of those did with tens of millions of dollars. It was inspiring how much could be done with that money. Granted having no stars, minimal crew, and improvised locations certainly helped keep the budget down.

The plot centres on Andrew, a photo journalist who has been asked by his boss to accompany his daughter Samantha back to the US from Costa Rica. In order to get back they must get through the Infected Zone, a region spanning Northern Mexico to the US border where a US space probe crashed ten years earlier releasing alien life forms.

The movie was shot by Edwards and a five-man crew in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Texas over a 3 week period. They shot guerilla style, finding interesting locations and persuading locals to appear in the movie as they went. Afterwards, Edwards sifted through over 100 hours of unrehearsed footage to eventually trim the movie down to 94 minutes. Edwards, an experienced digital effect artist, produced all the digital effects at home using off-the-shelf Adobe software, Z-Brush and Autodesk 3Ds Max.

I enjoyed the movie immensely and felt the tension as the couple moved deeper into the Infected Zone with their guides and then alone. By not following a traditional ‘monsters attacking cities’ plotline and focusing instead on the main characters, Edwards has created a believable world where monsters do exist.

Despite mixed reviews and a poor box-office, give credit where credit is due. Edwards, the producers and crew proved against all odds that decent monster movie could still be made without $100 million dollar Hollywood budgets. And further congratulations to Edwards who has been assigned the task of directing the reboot of the Godzilla franchise next year. Film fans should watch these breakdowns of Edwards digital effects work on the 2008 BBC docu-drama Attila the Hun.

Slash Film featurette on Gareth Edwards and the movie.
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  1. peter says

    500k seems much more like a realistic  figure than 30k. Why I think the film is great has nothing to do with the special effects. Its a great script and very decent acting. I am sure their was tons of pre production and casting that went on before they drove around for 3 weeks.

    • says

      I’m sure there was plenty of planning beforehand, but Edwards said they did shoot things along the way using whoever happened to be there. His biggest challenge afterwards was piecing it all together into a cohesive storyline from the hours and hours of footage.

      If you have time check out the Attila the Hun video at the end of my post. His special effects work is awesome, efficient and well thought out.

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