Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cloverfield Review (no spoilers)

The wonderfully understated title Cloverfield refers to the military designation for the creature that attacks New York City. The film claims to be recovered footage from "the area known as Central Park." A surprise party is being filmed for posterity when the creature attacks, and the guy with the camera continues to record the attempt of him and his friends to get from lower Manhattan to Midtown to save a girl our main character loves, but has treated badly. We see everything else mostly in glimpses along the way -- the military, the triage hospital in Bloomingdale's, the little crab like creatures that fall off of the big one. It is only 74 minutes long, but that is a virtue -- it taut and focused like Red Eye or Vacancy, and has none of the bloat you would get with a standard monster movie with an ensemble cast (e.g. the American Godzilla).

Cloverfield is a pretty amazing little movie, in large part because of the way it positions itself in relation to other movies. It is very much what it looks like: Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. I think that the Blair Witch Project had few inheritors because the concept is such a gimmick -- recovered footage from amateur camera-work -- but it does not feel at all gimmicky here. In the years since Blair Witch so many people have cameras as part of their phones, and record so much and throw it up on the internet that it seems completely natural that someone would be filling a party and then keep filming when an attack starts. There are some wonderful moments -- before the attack and afterward -- in which the camera films not just people, but also people filming things on their camera-phones, and TV News coverage -- so that the first time you see the little crab creatures you are watching a guy with a camera film TV footage in an electronics store. That is something that the Blair Witch Project -- by design, and because of the time period -- could not capture, and it makes you feel that the concept is necessary, rather than a gimmick or a repetition.

Cloverfield also provides a narrative reason for the standard film procedure -- in large part derived from stuff like Alien -- of seeing the big monster only in glimpses until the big reveal. Here we don't feel the "director" is toying with us -- we see that he is merely doing his best. The creature us blocked by buildings most of the time, and that is not his fault. It is all very persuasive, and removes the feeling that the monster movie is just a game. The main virtue of the Blair Witch camera work is the immediacy. The "editing" of Cloverfield makes you feel like you are watching the "real" version of something you have seen faked for years, and, hauntingly, the "tape" being used for the camera already had something else on it before the monster attack, and you catch glimpses of the romantic story underneath that relates directly to the motivation to save the girl, and provides a nice level of irony that would otherwise be missing.

Cloverfield also picks up the "September 11th = Monster" equation from Spielberg's War of the Worlds, a movie very much in its sights. Spielberg's film goes for immediacy in the camera work, but the "recovered" footage gimmick trumps him, in part because footage from people on the street was how so much of 9-11 was captured. Helping tremendously is the fact that Cloverfield's actors are unknowns, which helps you believe they are real people and this is really happening. There was a lot to like about War of the Worlds, and I love Tom Cruise, but Cruise was horribly cast in War of the Worlds as a dock-worker -- the guy is the American equivalent of royalty, and will never convince me, with his perfect hair, teeth, and jaw that he is anything other than Tom Cruise. He was much better, for example, in Eyes Wide Shut, where you feel there is more of a connection to his real upper class life, with his real upper class wife, their marital problems, his ambiguous sexuality, and his shadowy Scientology meetings. In addition to beating War of the Worlds in terms of casting and immediacy, Cloverfield also swerves from Spielberg's very fake ending, in which everyone makes it alive and well to a perfect Boston house, with the leaves falling from the trees in the most idyllic way. This is not a spoiler since you know from the teaser trailer that this is "recovered," rather than "delivered," footage.

Cloverfield makes the monster movie feel believable again, and necessary.


Voice Of The Eagle said...

In total agreement- although I must say I was a little let down in the monster itself. Mostly because of this:

I saw this design and I liked it so much I hoped it was the offical one.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Crap, looks like I'll need to see this one too.

Madd_Hadder said...

I absolutely loved Cloverfield. I was surprised with how funny I thought it was. It was nice having a "cameraman" who balanced the intense footage with some humor.

Kenney said...

I was let down by the actual design too, because I really fell in love with the design Eye of the Eagle posted. Whale Face is much cooler than the giant mutant we got.

I really enjoyed the movie, cast not with standing. I feel like the events of the movie are what would actually happen if a giant monster attacked NY. In that regard, the movie was a success.

The one thing I hated was the cast. These were perfect and beautiful Gap models, Gap models that made stupid decisions, and I just didn't care if they lived or died. Outside of the camera man, I didn't even come close to liking any of the characters.

Since this is a movie that is presented as something that "just happened", I think I would have much rather followed a group of people that seemed more real.

Geoff Klock said...

I do not know if this will change your mind but the Village Voice LIKED the casting for the reason you did not -- death to yuppie scum was how they put it.

Kenney said...

Oh, I was definitely enjoying watching these people get picked off one by one(that sounds kind of sick, no?). It was perfect casting for that.

I just think the movie would have been stronger if it had a little heart. Have you seen The Host? That is a perfect example of what I would have been happy to see in this movie, character wise.

Anonymous said...

YOU FRIGGIN A'HOLE! NO SPOILERS??? I read HALF of the first paragraph and already know what kind of creature to expect!!!

Someone please put a bullet through this guy's head!

Matthew J. Brady said...

Uh oh, Geoff has raised the ire of an anonymous internet troll. Watch out! And god, is that an overreaction or what? And a pretty specific way of killing you, for the slight of possibly spoiling a small detail of a movie that everybody is talking about anyway. Douchebag.

Geoff Klock said...

Wait. I did not mention any facts about the movie I did not read in a professional movie review. I thought the definition of a spoiler was stuff you would not find in a regular review, such as discussing the twist at the end, for example. I will put this up in a comment pull quote and see if I am totally off base. If I screwed up, I am genuinely sorry. I do not however, recommend anyone reading my blog, you know, kill me with a gun to the head.

But hey -- my first internet death threat. Well probably not the first. But still.

sara d. reiss said...

oh don't even give douchey mcgee there any cred in a pull quote. you didn't spoil the movie at all.

To Matt: you think douchey knows people are talking about this movie? I mean, a person what makes death threats on the internet over a movie review cannot possibly find themselves in conversation with real people much, right? Or even in proximity to one. I'm just guessing.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Yeah, that's probably true. Ah, screw him.