Wanted: Qualified Monster

As part of its job description, a monster must wear several hats. Okay, I admit this is perhaps my most opinionated commentary so far, but I have little patience for a poorly conceived and executed monster. It takes more than mucus, teeth, and blood to impress me. In fact, these often put me off. So hang on for my list of qualifications.

First, the monster must look good. A large part of this means fulfilling its role in the story. Whether designed to evoke fear, pity, respect, or anything else, it must be visually impressive in relation to that purpose.

Second, the concept behind the monster should be more than just to provide a compelling visual. The effect by itself can be short-lived, but a carefully conceived creature can be very instrumental in moving the plot forward. In this way, the monster goes beyond being impressive and becomes truly interesting.

Finally, I think the monster serves its highest role as a foil for the development of at least one character and even as a metaphor. Allow me to present four examples which I think satisfy this requirement (making allowances for special effects technology in a given time period). Regardless of how readers regard the movies I am about to mention, they do exemplify my last point:

  • Who is Captain Ahab without Moby Dick? The character of Ahab is defined and deformed by his obsession with exacting revenge on the white whale.
  • The Balrog on the bridge is cool, but Gandalf confronting it provides the true significance of the scene in The Fellowship of the RIng. In the next movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, his character moves up to a higher plane in the story as a result of this battle.
  • His interaction with the creature Crusoe demonstrates the personality of Angus MacMorrow in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.
  • Taming the Toruk constitutes a major vehicle of transformation for Jake Sully in Avatar.

Satisfying all of my criteria can make a good story or movie better.  Who knows? It might even make a bad movie more watchable.