Monolith (1993): Who Do You Want to Be?

Matty gets to grips with John Eyres’ uneven sci-fi/action hybrid.

Good, bad, boring, and brilliant — John Eyres’ MONOLITH is all of these things, often at the same time, and the film’s schizophrenic nature is obvious from the very first scene. It’s a striking opening, admittedly, and it’s easily on par with the genuinely disturbing school shooting at the start of Eyres’ debut, Lucifer (1987), in terms of sheer shock value. But as effective and as horrifying as its punchline is, the shooting of a young child down a back alley of Long Beach by a crazy Russian scientist should wield more dramatic power — the bulk of which is undercut by the fact, a few minutes earlier, we were watching a knockabout moment of comedy as Bill Paxton’s maverick, be-mulleted detective, Tucker, gorges on an overstuffed chili dog for breakfast. Throw in Paxton’s sassy partner, Flynn (Lindsay Frost), a choppily edited car chase, and a bizarre xylophone-heavy score, and Monolith’s inaugural strokes are its problems in a nutshell: Eyres’ surprisingly slapdash time-killer doesn’t know whether it wants to be a banter-y buddy cop comedy, gritty thriller, or over-the-top sci-fi shocker. 

The root of the confusion is Stephen Lister’s script. Working from a made-to-order pre-sale concept dreamt up by Eyres and his EGM Film International co-conspirator Geoff Griffiths, the through line of Lister’s plot is a tried n’ tested winner: it’s a police vs. alien caper in the tradition of Jack Sholder’s The Hidden (1987) and John McNaughton’s The Borrower (1991). The actual alien — an intangible energy force that hops body to body — is an imaginative, deliciously weird hook that’s brought to life with some stirring fire and lightning VFX supervised by William and John Mesa. The rest of Monolith, though — be it Paxton and Frost, John Hurt’s raspy performance as a shady fed, or Louis Gossett Jr. as the doomed police chief who, of course, has the mayor breathing down his neck — is a total jumble. There’s nothing to pin them to. They’re a collection of thinly written characters in a selection of scenes that never quite fit as a cohesive story, with motivations, temperaments, and moods changing at random as Lister and additional dialogue contributor Eric Poppen try to bring them together in a dud tangle of conspiracy and procedural. Worse is that this junk comes at the expense of the alien action, which begins to feel like a bit of an afterthought. 

It’s a shame, really, as in addition to the cast mugging gamely, Eyres mostly demonstrates a typically strong command of Monolith’s spectacle and carnage. The Brit B-movie maverick’s maiden American voyage, Monolith is EGM’s biggest and glossiest-looking offering: it boasts solid ‘Hollywood’ production values, and some extremely polished and atmospheric photography from Eyres mainstay Alan M. Trow (Lucifer, Project Shadowchaser (1992)). But as slickly lensed and as exciting as Eyres renders such things as a rooftop helicopter attack and a snazzily done mooch around a nicely designed alien spaceship, there’s a certain clunkiness to Monolith that seems at odds with Eyres’ usual efficiency. For every two or three moments of quality, there’s one that appears strangely lax. The alien’s murder of a rookie street cop, for example, is so wonkily staged it’s as if Eyres ran out of footage to make it play properly, and several cuts are so blunt and bereft of rhythm that you’d swear the VHS had skipped. 

Monolith hit U.S. video on 23rd February 1994 via MCA Universal, and was released on tape in the U.K. by First Independent in late summer 1994, after being subjected to nineteen seconds of BBFC snips. And no, ol’ Jimmy Ferman’s pruning doesn’t excuse the above noted sloppiness, dammit! 

UK/USA ● 1993 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 91mins

Bill Paxton, Lindsay Frost, John Hurt, Louis Gossett Jr. ● Dir. John Eyres Wri. Stephen Lister

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