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‘Monsters’ and the 3D ‘Wow!’ Factor

I’ve no doubt that “Monsters vs. Aliens” is going to kick some serious box-office ass this weekend and probably have a long life beyond its opening bow.

The reasons are numerous — the affability of voice talent like Seth Rogen and Reese Witherspoon, a simple, high-concept premise with broad-based appeal and, of course, DreamWorks cheerleader Jeffrey Katzenberg making himself available to anyone who’ll listen.

But why people will go, and why they’ll return, is the 3D.

I saw the film a few weeks back, and liked it a lot. It’s fast paced, the script’s mostly funny and smart, and Rogen and Hugh Laurie shine as their characters.

What I remember most, though, is that all the usually cynical reviewers let out a unanimous “Wow” in the opening sequence that demonstrated just how immersive, how perfect, the digital 3D process has become.

“Monster vs. Aliens” offers trips into space, spectacular disaster sequences, beautiful depth of field shots and the usual tacky but effective hands-reaching-out bits.

In total, what it offers is an unbelievable level of audio-visual immersion in something other than our lives — the escape from reality that entertainment-based cinema has aspired to since the days of Lumiere and Edison.

And that, especially for a world in the grip of the GFC, is something that can’t be underestimated.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” takes on a journey that our plasma TVs, iPods and wireless broadband links can’t begin to replicate.

It’s fitting that the movie riffs on “Creature From the Black Lagoon” and “It Came From Outer Space,” two 1953 3D releases that similarly provided something Cold War-cowed, Eisenhower-era audiences couldn’t get from their new-fangled TVs.

From the earliest commercial offering of a 3D movie (1922’s “The Power of Love”) through the 1950s and 1980s cycles, film lovers have always wondered what truly great three-dimensional cinema would look like.

Lately, in the likes of “Beowulf” and “Bolt,” we’ve gotten close. But “Monsters vs. Aliens” takes the format to a new level.

It realizes the dream of a generation who spent hours staring into their beloved Viewmasters, wishing they could see “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica” rendered in 3D.

While Pixar has always had the lead over DreamWorks in terms of story and character innovation, they’re now in the position of playing catch-up technically.

“Up’s” premiere at Cannes is no doubt a coup for Pixar, but my reaction after watching “Monsters vs. Aliens” was, “Wow, imagine if ‘Wall-E’ had been 3D”.

No doubt that’ll be a reaction to “Up,” too, although we can count on the usual heart, soul and brilliance.

The 3D “missile gap” between the companies is why, for my money, Pixar’s 2010 “Toy Story 3” is the real one to watch.

I’m very excited by what director Lee Unkrich — co-director of “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” — brings to the format in conjunction with “Little Miss Sunshine” scripter Michael Arndt.

Between now and then, of course, we’ve got James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Time magazine’s Josh Quittner reports this week that the long-awaited space adventure might just justify the “revolutionary” tag.

“I couldn’t tell what was real and what was animated — even knowing that the 9-foot-tall blue, dappled dude couldn’t possibly be real,” he writers.

“The scenes were so startling and absorbing that the following morning, I had the peculiar sensation of wanting to return there, as if Pandora were real.”

Total immersion as a movie experience sounds pretty good to me. So, to rewrite another “VS” movie tagline, whether it’s Dreamworks, Pixar or Fox: “No matter who loses, we win.”