Can a geek-friendly movie like Cloverfield really live up to its monster-sized hype? Judging from the box office returns and the sell-out showings, I’d say it’s doing pretty well. However, after seeing this “Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla” movie myself, I’m surprised at the way the marketing went for the “mysterious” angle. (For those of you as disappointed as I was by the letdown that was The Blair Witch Project, rest assured that you will get a good look at the monster, so you don’t need to hold bated breath.) The movie starts out with a bunch of pretty Manhattanites at a farewell party for Rob (the hero of this movie) who’s moving to Japan (ironically Godzilla’s home turf). As you may have already seen in trailers, noises and fiery explosions lead to panic as party-goers join crowds fleeing the Big Apple before whatever is attacking the city eats them all for breakfast. I’m not sure if producer J.J. Abrams (co-creator of such faves as Alias and Lost) came up with the idea of a monster-movie through one character’s camcorder lens, but the concept is pretty clever. Unfortunately, having just recently seen Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (another movie where monsters make quick snacks of attractive young people), I wonder if the camcorder trick is more of a gimmick to hide that this movie actually isn’t that different.
Though I’m still young-ish, and I live in the big city (Toronto, not NYC), I found these characters not very relatable — more like ones you’d find on a prime time soap on the CW network rather than “real life”. Much of the movie has the group trek across Manhattan to rescue Rob’s would-be girlfriend, “the woman he loves most in the world”. Wouldn’t the most normal course of action have been to evacuate and try to survive? Sure it’s great to tell a story about heroic love, but this kind of heroism just doesn’t shout “realistic”. I think the melodramatic element in this movie hearkens back to Abrams’s other work (i.e. young-adult soaps such as Felicity and What About Brian? which centre on groups of young friends dealing with growing up, romantic issues, and talking a lot about their feelings.)
All that being said, the movie is very engaging (and there’s even quite a bit of humour coming from the “cameraman”, Hud). I may not have felt drawn in as if I was one of Rob’s stout-hearted friends, but I did feel immersed in what they were going through — like I was in the room, street, or subway tunnel alongside them. The visual effects are top notch. In I Am Legend, I had been impressed with how they showed a real dog fighting with computer-generated mutant dogs, but I am even more impressed at how the computer-generated monsters of Cloverfield interacted with (i.e. attacked) people in dim, shaky-cam footage. Also, it was great how the director (Matt Reeves) arranged camera shots to cleverly allow quick glimpses of the monster or to pass over televisions displaying relevant news footage to subtly provide context for the main characters’ experiences. In a normal movie you can cut to whatever type of scene you want, but when it’s supposed to be actual camcorder footage, everything filmed needs to be believable as something a lay person would record — especially while all heck is breaking loose.
As I already mentioned, it’s odd that (according to the hype) you’re supposed to walk into the theatre expecting surprises, because there weren’t really very many of those. If you’ve seen a creature feature or a disaster film, you’ve already seen many of the things that take place in this movie. That’s not to say this wasn’t a fun movie. I was pretty much on the edge of my seat the whole time. So much happens to the characters in the movie that by the last scene (which reminds you of the beginning of the movie) you can’t imagine that it’s all taken place in less than a day. I guess if this movie has achieved anything new, it’s redefined the monster-movie for the first-person-shooter generation. (4 out of 5)
What if I made Cloverfield?
I would have made the movie from a more average person’s perspective — maybe a family. Though I can already see some of the logistical problems justifying having someone keep the camera on the whole time (it’s not as if dad would keep rolling while trying to get Timmy or Susie to safety). However, I think it would have served the essential premise a bit better. Another possibility is telling the story of more than one group of survivors. The video from the movie is supposedly held by the Department of Defense after-the-fact. They would conceivably have gathered footage from various sources. I think that capturing the event from different perspectives would have made it really interesting (maybe one could have been a news camera, one a family camcorder, maybe some snippets from surveillance footage).
P.S. Be sure to stay after the credits have ended so you can hear the mysterious last whisper (and join the online debate about what words are being said).