A Monster Calls explores the death of a parent by a young child, how a child might deal with death, and the death of daughter from the perspective of a mother. It is a film with a complicated past. The story originated with author Siobhan Dowd, who died before the idea for the book was very far along. Writer Patrick Ness was given her notes and created the novel in 2011, illustrated by Jim Kay, that would go on to win the Carnegie Medal. For the movie adaptation the story was further revised by Ness as screenwriter, and again by director Juan Antonio Bayona who added an art focus for the film’s little boy, an element reflecting the director’s own youth.
In A Monster Calls: The Art and Vision Behind the Film, approximately a third of the book is devoted to interviews with the cast and crew, a review of the film’s heartbreaking story of loss and an Ent-like monster accompanying a boy on a difficult journey. The interviews reflect a vast array of views and approaches to the story–everyone involved with the film has a surprisingly different twist on the story and its meaning. We hear from director J.A. Bayona, author/screenwriter Patrick Ness, actors Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and the young star Lewis MacDougall, as well as director of photography Oscar Faura, producer Belén Atienza, line producer Sandra Hermida, editors Bernat Vilapalana and Jaume Martí, sound designer Oriol Tarragó, and composer Fernando Velázquez.
Along with its serious topic, the book and movie have fantastical elements, and A Monster Calls: The Art and Vision Behind the Film accordingly provides insight into the creation of the titular monster, Liam Neeson’s first foray into motion capture acting as the monster, concept art, site location selections, animated sequences, model work, make-up, costume renderings, and CGI. We learn how the miniature work came together, and how the visual and sound effects were created for key scenes, including trial work for effects that did not make it into the film.
The last third of the book is a welcome and unusual addition for “art of” books: It contains Patrick Ness’s complete 142-page script, including scenes deleted from the final cut, and accompanying storyboards.
A Monster Calls: The Art and Vision Behind the Film is an oversized, full color, 328-page hardcover book by Desirée De Fez from Insight Editions. It is available now from Amazon here, and is recommended reading for fans of the novel and film. It also provides a different approach to adapting an underlying work for film, and chronicles the filmmaking process for such a unique, dramatic story.