Nov 29, 2017
5 life lessons from the movie Monster Trucks
Where does your mind go when you think about the movie Monster Trucks? Are you fascinated by a stellar cast signing up for what was essentially a Nickelodeon TV movie? Are you amazed that Adam Goodman, president of Paramount, bet his studio’s future on a franchise of hybrid live-action/CGI movies with Monster Trucks as its very first tentpole? Are you astonished that the original concept for the film came from Goodman’s four year-old son? Are you concerned that that last thing might have been a joke? Because it wasn’t. Monster Trucks was pitched by a four year-old.
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Maybe you’re hung up on the money. Paramount and Nickelodeon spent $125 million just to make the film and probably sunk another $75 mil into the advertising. In contrast, Nickelodeon made the TV movie Jinxed at about the same time using actors from its own TV shows for 2.5% of the cost. And it was better than Monster Trucks.
Or maybe you just enjoy the carnage. It was shot in 2014 for release on May 29, 2015… or make that Christmas Day 2015… better yet, March 18, 2016… before being unceremoniously dumped on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Weekend 2017, where films that aren’t documentaries about Martin Luther King, Jr. go to die. It made about $64 million worldwide, half its shooting budget and a third of its total budget. Before the movie was even released, Paramount wrote it down as a loss of $115 million.
Studio president Adam “let’s make movies to sell toys” Goodman got shown the door before the thing hit the screens, and even interim president Tom Dooley stepped down. Chris Wedge, despite creating the Ice Age franchise, hasn’t directed a movie since. And sound effects editor Lee Gilmore is… actually doing pretty well. He did La La Land and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He’ll be fine.
But none of these things come to my mind when I think of Monster Trucks. None of them even register. What stays with me are the lessons I learned, about life, about love, and about trucks. Mostly trucks.
1. YOUR LIFE IS WORTHLESS IF YOU DON’T OWN A TRUCK.
Nothing on earth matters. You could be a great student or a fantastic mechanic. Maybe you help your single mother. Maybe you hold down a job after school. None of that defines you. Unless you own a truck, everyone will hate you.
The guy riding home from school in his truck hates you because you ride the bus. Your father left. Your mom’s boyfriend, Sheriff Barry Pepper, absolutely can’t stand you.
It doesn’t even matter that you look like MacGyver or that you were one of the damned X-Men (Havok, not one of the good ones like Scott or that girl from The Piano). If you do not have a truck, it is proof that you do not deserve a truck. It will get so bad that you will sit in a junker with no engine and pretend to be driving.
But just look what happens to your life when you get a truck! You get the girl. Everyone loves you. Your enemies are literally driven before you. Your father comes back! Even your mom’s asshat sheriff boyfriend helps you fix up the engine, hands you the keys, and finally tells you he’s proud of you.
The message of the movie is clear: Nothing has value except to the extent it gets you a truck.
2. NOTHING HAS VALUE EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT IT GETS YOU A TRUCK.
So, here’s what this stupid movie is about: In some small town in North Dakota, an oil company accidentally hits a pocket of water and out shoot three squid things who also can somehow smile.
Incidentally, none of this is even vaguely possible. The borehole for the oil drill is at best twelve centimeters across, so huge squid things are not shooting out. Also, both fish and whales get decompression sickness that can kill them. Cephalopods, like whatever these things are, can’t live on land because they have no bones. And don’t write in the comments about tree squids, because they aren’t a thing.
Our “hero”, Tripp, finds one of these impossible science-can-go-F-itself things. A brilliant student of taxonomic nomenclature, he calls the thing “Creech”.
Tripp is pretty repulsed by Creech, but then Creech proves himself useful. So long as you feed him oil, he can act as the engine for a dilapidated truck! Get it? It’s a monster in a truck! You can’t afford not to throw two hundred million dollars at that! And suddenly, there’s a ray of hope.
“Hey,” I hear you ask, “What are the ethics of using a terrified animal as a motor in your 30 year-old Ford?” Great question. A character actually points out that Creech is using the truck like a wheelchair. And Tripp… does not care. Because now God has given him a truck.
Also useless to Tripp is schoolmate Meredith. She’s in love with him, but he hates her because she isn’t a truck. Incidentally, this is Meredith:
Tripp hates Meredith so much that he tells her to walk home alone on Friday night from a junkyard. That is, he hates her until he finds out her dad owns a huge barn filled with power tools so he can work on his truck. From that point on, it’s love. It’s like a Fault in Our Stars level of love.
You’d think it couldn’t get any better between the two. But when Meredith lends Tripp her dad’s credit card so he can buy $300 worth of gas… well, you might as well be watching The Notebook.
So, we’ve enslaved a clearly juvenile squid thing. We’ve preyed on a teenage girl’s hormones. What’s next? Oh, there’s this nerd:
Combination dweeb-spaz-nerd Sam is of no use to Tripp whatsoever, until Sam gives Tripp access to his father’s dealership and not one but two brand new trucks.
And we’ve already seen mom’s boyfriend finally gain Tripp’s grudging acceptance when he hands Tripp the keys to his new truck.
Speaking of browsing Amazon for mentions of Jane Levy:
3. GIRLS ARE ONLY GOOD FOR SITTING IN THE PASSENGER SEAT OF A TRUCK.
Quick question: How many of the women in this movie have names? Quick answer: three. There’s Jane Levy as Meredith and Tripp’s mother, Cindy (inexplicably played by real actress Amy Ryan). Some other girl gets a name, but I don’t remember her being in the movie. The next billed female is Aliyah O’Brien who—despite having 47 acting credits in 10 years and somehow being hotter than Jane Levy—is credited as “Junior Scientist”.
Of the four other women in the cast, there is one notably billed “pretty woman in car” and another called “Tenneson’s Secretary.”
Women aren’t really needed much in this universe. They basically have one main purpose. Seeing as this is a Nickelodeon movie, it’s not even the good one. It’s this Bechdel failing, sexy lamping mess:
If every female in the cast were removed and replaced by those salt cubes from Star Trek, it would make absolutely no difference whatsoever to the plot.
There is the minor exception that Meredith at one point does get to drive. It’s only because they end up with three creatures and Tripp can’t simultaneously drive three trucks (although you know he wants to).
How do they get three creatures? They get the help of an oil company scientist who can magically science absolutely everything.
4. SCIENTISTS CAN SCIENCE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.
The very first character we’re introduced to is geologist Jim Dowd. Just like every other insane casting decision, he’s played by The State‘s Thomas Lennon. Question: Does this veteran of Reno 911 get anything funny to do? Answer: Absolutely not. But he does get to science. He sciences the hell out of some science.
Technically, Lennon is the lead petroleum geologist. He’s been taking courses in Metamorphic Petrology, whatever the hell that is. His income is probably north of $200,000 a year. You’d expect him to be very good at finding oil underground. Yet in the course of this movie, he sciences:
Oceanography. The very first thing we see him do is analyze the conditions for life at a depth of two miles. He confidently states that dissolved nitrogen would make life impossible. He is not just movie wrong but real life wrong as well. The record right now is seven miles.
Marine Biology. When the deep-sea dolphin-squids explode out of the earth, Lennon jumps into action to study them, calling upon nobody with any experience in any relevant field. He nearly starves them to death before figuring out they eat oil. He also never bothers putting them in water, which is kind of mean for animals who, you know, live in water.
Cognitive Ethology. With two creatures in custody (Creech’s parents, probably), Lennon begins experimenting on their intelligence. And it’s okay. He clearly has designed a repeatable, falsifiable test after an extensive review of the available literature… What? He’s got a children’s toy on a stick? That seems fine.
Fish and Wildlife Official. Lennon eventually helps free the animals. He shuts down drilling by letting loose some endangered horned lizards on the property. How did he get hold of these animals to begin with? I don’t know. Science, probably. Also, the lizards are native to Texas and probably won’t make it in small-town North Dakota.
And that’s all the sciencing that gets done in Monster Trucks. The only other person with any sort of education in the movie is Aliyah O’Brien as “Junior Scientist”. She’s in one scene and her concerns are dismissed because she’s a girl and stupid and probably doesn’t own a truck.
5. THE BAD GUY ALWAYS GOES TO JAIL… BECAUSE HE’S ROB LOWE, MAYBE?
So, somehow they got Rob Lowe to be in this movie. I’m assuming they must have paid him money, like Robert Downey, Jr. in Civil War money. Lowe exclusively plays smarmy characters, or sometimes, endearingly smarmy characters. This time, he’s the smarmy CEO of the oil company.
Lowe’s plan is to keep the existence of the porpoise-jellyfish things a secret, murder them, and inject poison into the underground water to kill the entire species. He hires goons in trucks to chase Tripp all over town (in exciting 3D truck chases).
In the end, Lowe is defeated, the drill site is closed, and the aliens… um, sea creatures… are saved. But you know what doesn’t happen? The discovery is never made public. Nobody knows that Lowe found these things or that he tried to kill them. And nobody can link him to the goons without explaining why they were gooning it up all over North Dakota.
I’m not even sure trying to kill not-fish is a crime. And yet, Rob Lowe goes directly to jail.
What is the FBI arresting him for? If it has to do with the events of Monster Trucks, nobody knows about them. If it has to do with general oil company stuff, how come the rest of the board isn’t going to jail with him?
As near as I can tell, he’s being arrested for being Rob Lowe. I assume the sentence will be that he has to continue being Rob Lowe.
So that’s the final lesson of Monster Trucks: Forget everything else I said. I was just buying time. If you want to live a happy life, never be Rob Lowe.