Monster's Ball (2001)

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Released 19-Nov-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Trailer-Men In Black II; The Mothman Prophecies; Spider Man
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Featurette-Behind The Music
Audio Commentary
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 108:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (76:55) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Marc Forster

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Billy Bob Thornton
Halle Berry
Heath Ledger
Peter Boyle
Sean Combs
Mos Def
Will Rokos
Milo Addica
Coronji Calhoun
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music asche and spencer

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Monster's Ball is not a direct-to-video sequel to Monsters, Inc. If you're looking for children's movies, I suggest you try down the hall and around to the right — ask for Disney or Pixar. OK, now that we've helped those people, let's deal with this film.

    The term "Monster's Ball" is a reference to a practice in the 19th Century, where a condemned man would spend the night before his execution celebrating at a ball held in his honour (forgive the male pronoun - it's easier). This film starts the day before a man, Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), is executed. He doesn't get a party. The film opens on Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) sleeping as the credits roll. He awakens and gets dressed. Then we cut to Sonny Grotowski (Heath Ledger) as he relieves himself with a prostitute called Vera. Cut back to Hank collecting his mail and looking after his decrepit father Buck (Peter Boyle), who rapidly establishes himself as very racist — that's one of the strong themes of this film. Hank runs two little black boys off his property with a shotgun, even though they came to see his son, Sonny. We learn that Hank is in charge of the team that will be overseeing the execution, and that Sonny is a member of the team (later we discover that Buck was a corrections officer, too).

    Hank is concerned about doing his job right. He feels strongly that everything must be right, that a man's last walk must be dignified, must be respectful.

    Meanwhile, Lawrence is having his last meeting with his boy, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun), and his wife, Leticia (Halle Berry). Apparently she has been visiting him in jail for eleven years, and he has finally run out of appeals.

    We are spared none of the preparations for the execution, but it is rendered tolerable by the measured, almost dreamy, pace. We are shown how the death team is almost as strongly affected as the family of the condemned man. Hank's professionalism is contrasted with Sonny's youth and inexperience. Death by electric chair must be one of the more grisly means of execution.

    The execution, though, is only the beginning of the story. There are more horrors in store for our leads, although none of supernatural making. This story is unrelenting, and heavy going, but there is a kind of redemption, or perhaps hope at the end (if you get there!).

    Some fuss was made over the sex scenes in this film. They are an important part of the story — it wouldn't be the same film without them. But if you have a problem with fairly blatant sex, you will have trouble with this film. I'm surprised there was no such fuss about the capital punishment, but maybe sex is more shocking...

    This film is shocking. I can't say I enjoyed it, because it is not that kind of film. I was impressed — there's some awesome acting in it — I did not enjoy it. I was also appreciative of the fact that this film credits the viewer with some intelligence: the director refrains from the deep and meaningful close-ups that others might have added (you know what I mean: the Days of Our Lives reaction shots...)

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Transfer Quality


    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. That's the original theatrical aspect ratio. This film could not be properly presented in pan and scan, because the director has done some amazing framing of this film, with some of the leads always placed at the edges of the frame. There are some very long takes in this film — that's part of the measured pace of the film, and it is beautifully done — so very different from the frantic cut/cut/cut of some of today's movies.

    The image is beautifully presented. It is not razor sharp, but it is very clear — you'll see what I mean. Shadow detail is excellent, and there's no low-level noise.

    Colour is superb — there are no fully-saturated colours, but that's the production design. Skin-tones are amazing. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are some tiny film artefacts (a bright spot at 52:58), but you could easily miss them. There is not a lot of aliasing (that's one area where our transfer shines over the R1), but you'll see quite a bit at 92:56 on the Venetians (as usual). There are traces on the truck around 80:09. There's no moire, and no MPEG artefacts.

    There are no subtitles. That's a huge mistake — they would have been very helpful with the thick accents. I am tempted to recommend the R1 disc on the basis of it having subtitles.

    The disc is single-sided and RSDL-formatted. The layer change is at 76:55. It's not especially obvious when you watch the movie, but it shows up more strongly when listening to the commentary.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is available in English, or...English (hope you understand English). There is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which I listened to, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 which I checked (it's there).

    The dialogue is not especially easy to understand. It's in a mixture of fairly strong Southern accents (Heath Ledger's is a bit spotty), and often very quiet — I had to raise the volume to make out some of the words. I would really have liked a subtitle track. There are no obvious holes in audio sync.

    Without this score, the film would not have had anything like the effect it has. The score is credited to asche and spencer, which I believe is a group of musicians, including Thad Spencer, Richard Werbowenko, and Chris Beaty, at least, with Rick Asche. Although it sounds like synthesizers, it is acoustic and electric guitar music, run through various steps of processing. Some of it is very slow, languid, but so very effective.

    The surrounds and sub are used sparingly, but they are used. The surrounds deepen the soundfield, wrapping around the audience. The subwoofer provides great depth to the bass of the score.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are quite a few extras on this disc, and they are interesting ones, too.


    The menu is animated with music. It's easy to operate, and well suited to the movie.

Theatrical Trailer 0:31

    A simple, effective trailer, presented at 1.33:1.

30 Second TV Spot 0:31

    The short TV ad for the movie, presented at 1.33:1.

Bonus Movie Trailers

Interviews — Cast and Crew (12:44)

    These are interleaved fragments of several interviews, with each person addressing a particular topic in turn.

Featurette — Anatomy of a Scene (24:00)

    This was recorded as a short programme for the Sundance Channel. It's discussing a sequence that's a lot more than one scene, but it is one sequence: the execution.

Featurette —  Behind the Music (8:20)

    This is an interesting discussion of the design of the music for this film. Well worth watching.

Audio Commentary - director Marc Forster, actors Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry

    This commentary was recorded for the R1 DVD, and makes mention of the deleted scenes (we don't get those). It's quite an interesting commentary, with a lot of information revealed, in amongst the (expected) mutual congratulation. Well worth listening to.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this disc was released fairly recently, and it's not quite as impressive as the cover makes out. The cover claims that this disc includes "over one hour of behind-the-scenes footage" — there is less than five minutes! It also claims that the disc includes the Anatomy of a Scene featurette; if it is present, I can't find it, and I did find both Easter Eggs. All in all, I think the extras game came out fairly even.

    The Region 1 disc is missing:

    The Region 4 disc is missing:

    The one drawback to the Region 1 disc, in my opinion, is that it shows more aliasing (not excessive, but more). The biggest drawback to the R4, I think, is the lack of subtitles — some of the dialogue is hard to make out without subtitles. At the same time, though, you could be happy with either disc.


    Monster's Ball is an interesting and impressive film, but more than a little confronting, on a good DVD.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is very good, but some of the dialogue is not easy to make out unless you raise the volume.

    The extras are very good.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, October 28, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
Why miss the DOP Commentary track - REPLY POSTED
Problems with Pioneer 717 - Zaph
Kevin ?? - Paul@StreamAV (read my bio)
RE Pioneer 717 Problems. - Stimpy (da, what's a bio Ren?)
re: Problems with Pioneer 717 - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.)
Layer Change - CatonaPC© (read my bio) REPLY POSTED