Monster Trucks

Monster Trucks
Monster Trucks

Monster Trucks is not the most original movie. It's like E.T. meets Transformers, with a dash of How to Train Your Dragon, but it will likely entertain younger audiences. The special effects are eye-catching, the action sequences demand attention, and the message about family will stay with viewers after the film ends.

Directed by Chris Wedge, Monster Trucks tells the story of a lost creature who takes up residence in a teenager’s truck. The unlikely pair form a strong bond, and with help from friends and family, the two work together to get the creature back to its home. During their journey, they must outrun the henchmen of a corrupt oil company executive who has other plans for the creature’s fate. Starring Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Rob Lowe, Barry Pepper, Frank Whaley, Holt McCallany, Amy Ryan, and Danny Glover, the movie runs 104 minutes in length.

Monster Trucks is not the most original or unique movie. It feels like E.T. meets Transformers, with a dash of How to Train Your Dragon thrown in, but it will still likely entertain younger audiences. The special effects are eye-catching, the action sequences demand attention, and the more subtle message about family will stay with viewers long after the film ends.

The movie begins with a scene that could be straight out of a creature-feature horror film if it had different music and sound effects. Terravex, an oil-drilling company headed by Rob Lowe’s smarmy Reece Tenneson, accidentally disturbs the underground home of a “monster.” A mysterious face passes in front of their camera and equipment begins malfunctioning. People start running and screaming, and dialogue including “There’s something down there!” is heard. In different circumstances, it really could be the beginning of a horror film, but there is cheery music so viewers, especially younger ones, know that everything is okay.

Any viewer who saw the trailer knows that the mysterious “monster” is not villainous. In fact, it’s not even a monster. The movie offers the suggestion that this creature is just a member of a yet-undiscovered species. He is a large gelatinous blob, for lack of a better description, but he certainly has adorable moments. This creature, who will later be dubbed “Creech” is childlike, playful, and incredibly intelligent. When the drilling company accidentally forces him out of his home, he is lonely and scared.

Creech takes up residence in an old junkyard full of hiding places and gasoline (Creech’s food of choice). He is discovered by an employee named Tripp (Till), a high school loner who can’t wait to leave the small-town life behind him after graduation. For the record, Lucas Till does not look like a high-school student. A shot of him sitting on a bus surrounded by people who are clearly much younger is quite comical. His age aside, Till does a nice job in the film. He is believable in the role and works well with the special effects and stunts. Though Creech is made of special effects and people in green-screen-like suits, you wouldn’t know it based on Till’s performance.

Though hesitant of each other at first, Creech and Tripp develop a friendship. The movie’s second act follows the development of that relationship and sees Tripp modify an old vintage Dodge truck so that Creech can comfortably sit in it and act as its engine. We also see Tripp develop a friendship with his Biology tutor, Meredith (Levy). Around this time, we learn that Tripp has an uneasy relationship with his father (Whaley), who happens to be working for Terravex and is back in town after leaving years ago. Tripp’s relationship with his step-father (Pepper), the local sheriff, isn’t much better.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s character knows that a creature escaped while his company was drilling. The discovery of life on the land would force him to shut his project down, so he plans to reacquire the animal and keep the incident quiet. Lowe isn’t given much to work with in the film, unfortunately. He adds a southern accent that doesn’t really feel necessary, but does indicate that he is an outsider in the film’s North Dakota setting. His character is very one-dimensional and the stereotypical villain, but given the movie’s target audience, he doesn’t need to be much more.

One of his employees is portrayed by Thomas Lennon. This character also knows that a creature escaped, but unlike his boss, his conscience is weighing heavy about keeping the incident quiet. Many of the movie’s laughs are provided by Lennon. His character gets more entertaining and compelling throughout the movie, and Lennon steals almost every scene he’s in.

The movie’s final act is where we see most of the action sequences. Tenneson has sent henchmen, led by Holt McCallany’s character, to reacquire the escaped animal. Creech, meanwhile, is trying to find his way home with the help of Tripp and Meredith. There is a high-stakes car chase up the side of a mountain. Though the Terravex team has a small fleet of matching black cars, Tripp has help from some unexpected allies, including his step-father and a new friend.

The final chase is fun to watch. It’s clear what is happening at all times. We know who is winning, who has fallen behind, and where each vehicle is in relation to each other and the mountain’s landscape. It is a little concerning how quickly the henchmen go from “reacquire the monster” to “murder is fine” as they try to drive characters off the side of the mountain. The special effects in this sequence are some of the movie’s best. Not only does Creech look excellent, but so do the stunts involving vehicles on both teams. One truck, for example, does an excellent barrel roll over another.

The ending wraps the story up nicely for each character. It’s in these final minutes that the idea of “family” is really reinforced. While Creech and Tripp have clearly developed a familial bond throughout the story, we learn that the journey has taught Tripp to reach out and connect with characters he had previously pushed to the side. It’s a nice ending and feels appropriate for the younger target audience.

What does feel a bit out of place is the movie’s soundtrack at times. To advance the plot quickly, several musical montages are included to show scenes such as Tripp and Creech bonding or working on the truck. Not every movie can (or should) use “Eye of the Tiger,” but the song choices here feel flat and don’t bring the viewer into the scenes.

The film also makes heavy use of stereotyped characters. Aside from Lowe’s underdeveloped villain, we have the stereotypical absent father, busy mother, distant step-father, tough lead henchman, and geeky friend. Danny Glover is only in two scenes and given the role of kind employer. While one of these characters is excellently developed and removed from the stereotypical mold as the story progresses, many others could have been given more material or layers.

There are also a few minor plot holes and continuity errors. For example, we clearly see someone put on a seat belt in a truck, but they nearly fall out of the truck shortly after. Later in the sequence, the seat belt is back on again.

These minor critiques aside, Monster Trucks is an enjoyable, albeit often goofy, family film. Paramount didn’t seem to have much faith in this movie, and the release date was moved several times. This is a shame. Given better marketing and support by Paramount, Monster Trucks could have been a much bigger release and far more successful.

Video – The Blu-ray of Monster Trucks has a 1080p HD transfer. This looks excellent and only works against the special effects in a few, brief instances. For example, Creech appears rather animated in a quick shot of him scaling a building while in Tripp’s truck. In a majority of his scenes, though, Creech is very lifelike and well designed. It’s clear that the animators spent vast amounts of time on every detail of his animation, and their efforts look wonderful.

Also excellent is the Blu-ray’s enhancement of bold colors. The opening shot is an aerial view of a very blue sky over top of a deeply green field. Colors don’t stop there. Each truck and each detail on those trucks is colorful, rich, and bold. This release does not feature an HDR enhancement, but it would be interesting to see how much bolder the colors could be.

Audio – The Blu-ray features an English Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Dialogue is always prioritized and easy to understand. Creech, though he has no spoken lines, is also clearly heard. Viewers hear his noises of confusion, curiosity, and laughter and can uses these sounds paired with his expressions to understand what he is thinking or intending. As expected, audio involving the trucks, such as engines revving up, is also clear and crisp. Sound effects, including Creech’s operation of Tripp’s truck, sound appropriate and match the context well. For example, when Creech opens his viewing grate, we hear the squeak of the metallic gate opening.
(Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.)

Special Features – Available on the Blu-ray disc only

The special features offer an interesting look at how the movie was made. Viewers hear from cast members, creators, and production personnel on what makes this movie unique and entertaining. Some highlights include brief interviews with Danny Glover and Thomas Lennon. Viewers also hear from the animators and special effects coordinators about how Creech was created. The special effects in most of the deleted scenes are incomplete, so viewers get to see some scenes while they are mid-development. Aside from this unusual look, the deleted scenes don’t add much to the film’s overall plot and were likely removed to avoid slowing the film’s quick pace.

• Who’s Driving The Monster Trucks? (7:06) – Cast and crew talk about the making of the movie.

    • The Monster In The Truck (4:57) – One animator refers to Creech as a “giant seal-octopus creature.” Hear how the team used their own faces as reference points to create a monster with feelings and emotions.

      • Creating The Monster Truck (6:29) – Learn how a real truck was used during production and how the stunt coordinators ensured the safety of everyone on set during crashes and chase sequences.

        • Gag Reel (4:35) – See a horse slobber on Jane Levy, men in green-screen body suits tackle Lucas Till, and Thomas Lennon being . . . Thomas Lennon.

          • Production Diaries (10:13) – These short features, each lasting almost a minute in length, offer insights about the making of stunts, thoughts from the cast, and details about Tripp’s vintage truck. Segments include ‘Barrel Roll,’ ‘Avoiding Traffic (Deleted Scene),’ ‘Green Suits & Green Screens,’ ‘Remote Control,’ ‘Hydraulics,’ ‘Rob Lowe,’ ‘Fake Truck Driving,’ ‘First Contact,’ ‘Truck Spin,’ and ‘Vintage Truck.’

            • Deleted Scenes –
            1. Detention (2:11) – Tripp and Meredith discuss sexual reproduction during his biology tutoring in detention.
            2. Car Trouble (1:29) – While Tripp and Meredith discuss how they know Brianne (Samara Weaving), Creech spots a Terravex truck.
            3. Avoiding Traffic (0:36) – Creech chases a Terravex truck off the side of an overpass.
            4. Apology (1:22) – Tripp visits his mother at work to explain why he hasn’t been home much lately.
            5. Tire Change (1:36) – When Meredith’s tire is blown out during a car chase, Tripp leaps from his truck to replace her tire while Creech drives for him.
            6. Let’s Go Around (1:13) – Tripp and his friends drive up a mountain to avoid Tenneson’s henchmen.

              Monster Trucks is not the most original or unique movie. It feels like E.T. meets Transformers, with a dash of How to Train Your Dragon thrown in, but it will still likely entertain younger audiences. The special effects are eye-catching, the action sequences demand attention, and the more subtle message about family will stay with viewers long after the film ends.


              • Strong special effects and action sequences
              • Humor provided by Thomas Lennon
              • Entertaining special features


              • Somewhat unoriginal plot
              • "Teenage" cast of twenty-something actors
              • Occasional plot and continuity errors