Saturday, January 19, 2008

WIBW @ The Movies: CLOVERFIELD



The Plot: Filmed entirely as though shot with a personal handheld camera operated by a civilian, Cloverfield tells the story of a group of friends living in New York when the city is attacked by a giant monster. With little time to spare, this small group of individuals makes their way across the city on foot in an attempt to rescue one of their friends on the other side of town. Meanwhile, the government has taken to the streets in an attempt to stop the rampaging beast of unknown origin.

The Review: With the hype surrounding Cloverfield so high, I'm surprised that it was able to live up to the expectations held by the majority of those who have seen it, including myself. Everyone is familiar with "giant monster" movies such as Godzilla and King Kong, but what sets Cloverfield apart from all of those other films is it's focus, which falls on a group of people completely disconnected from the situation at hand. Usually the main characters of disaster films such as this are people integral to the diffusion of the situation such as scientists or army personnel, but such is not the case with Cloverfield, and that accounts for the majority of the success of the movie. All stereotypes surrounding the genre are thrown out the window in exchange for a very human portrayal of the events during a disaster. As such, the characters become the focus rather than the horrible events they are living through.

My main hesitation going into viewing Cloverfield was the fact that the entire film is portrayed as though filmed by an amateur with a common handheld camera. "Shaky cam" has become a bit of a stereotype in itself these days, often over-used by directors wishing to add intensity to their action scenes or to hide inconsistencies in them. Luckily, instead of dredging up memories of the spastic camera operation in films such as X-Men, the Bourne series, and Transformers, the point of view in Cloverfield serves only to draw the viewer further into the story than most movies can manage. Instead of lingering on long, smooth aerial shots of the film's antagonist destroying beloved landmarks, almost the entire film is shot from the street level, allowing the audience only a glimpse here or there of the monster as though they were really onsite, experiencing the situation for themselves. Also, the fact that the camera is at all times in the possession of the film's main characters keeps the focus squarely on them and their plight. Add to this that the camera operator whose commentary we are constantly privy to is the most likable character in the film (and perhaps the most likable character of any movie ever), and all of my worries about the success of the camera choices made by the filmmakers were for naught.

As a huge fan of monster movies, the biggest draw of Cloverfield for me was the creature responsible for the mayhem which ensues onscreen. Taking a cue from the original Alien, Cloverfield's filmmakers obviously agree with the notion that the less you see of something, the more frightening it is. Employing the camera tricks which I mentioned previously to keep the audience from seeing too much of the movie's monster too soon greatly upped the intensity and my interest in the film. By rarely giving viewers a clear look at what is attacking New York City, the mind is left to make it's own assumptions, which greatly increases the suspense of the film. Despite my extreme desire to know what it looked like, when we are finally given a clear shot of the creature toward the end of the film I couldn't help but think that the it might have worked even better had we never gotten even that good of a look at it. That's how powerful the mystery and suspense of Cloverfield are which, combined with the surprisingly great ability of the entire cast to come across as real people in a candid situation, makes for a viewing experience that I won't soon forget.

The Verdict: Science fiction is at it's most horrific when questions are raised to which there are not any logical or readily available answers, which is a concept that Cloverfield takes to heart. This film takes a genre with a history steeped in laughably bad films and puts a very unique twist on it that completely revitalizes the "giant monster" movie. For fans of monster movies, thrillers, action-packed extravaganzas, and disaster flicks, it doesn't get much better than Cloverfield.

5 comments:

Ricky said...

Great review! I agree with every single word. What an awesome movie!? The only thing I have to add is that I can't stop thinking about it!!! Since the film does such a great job of not blatantly showing you what's happening on-screen, I keep playing clips of the most intense scenes through my head, trying to see them clearer and get the full picture. I don't think I've ever had that experience after seeing a movie, I'm really excited to see it again as soon as possible so I can relive the adventure and try to get a closer look at what happens.

I'm still not sure how I would feel about a sequel, as much as I love the movie, I like not getting to know too much. But I read an interesting quote, which you've probably read by now, that when asked about a possible sequel Matt Reeves said

"we talked about the possibilities and directions of how a sequel can go. The fun of this movie was that it might not have been the only movie being made that night, there might be another movie! In today’s day and age of people filming their lives on their iphones and handy cams, uploading it to youtube…That was kind of exciting thinking about that".

I'm still not sure about the whole sequel thing, but that idea is kind of exciting.

Rian said...

Ricky - I honestly hadn't thought about it yet, but right now I'm not pro-sequel. As I said in the review, the closest thing to a negative comment I can say about Cloverfield is that we may have even seen a bit too much of the monster (specifically at the end in a certain lingering upshot), so I don't think that I want to see or know any more about the monster or the situation. If nothing else, the fact that there's a hidden clip after the credits that says "it's still alive" is enough of a sequel for me. Just imagining what could possibly have happened if the monster survived is enough for me considering that the whole movie is about not quite knowing what's happening. I'd like to let my imagination do the rest.

Scott Ewen said...

I loved it too! I was the only one in the group of people I saw it with that liked it, though.

mikemack1984 said...

great great movie. thought it was well executed and lived up to the hype on my end. liked that fact that the monster stayed obscured most of the time but was still bowled over by the thing at the end. man what a beast. very nice design. and the little "lice" monsters were freaky little fuckers. like pitch black meets startship troopers. maybe. and as for Hud. comic genius. "something terrrible." understatement of the year. great friggin movie

Rian said...

Scott - Sounds like you need to get some new friends. Seriously though, I did overhear a good number of people bashing the movie as we walked out of the theater when I saw it. Most of the comments I caught were fairly unconvincing, though. Things like, "Way to throw all these ideas at us and never explain any of them." If I'm not mistaken, that was pretty much the whole point of the movie. Any time a film tries something dramatically different from the norm it's going to hit some bumps along the way, but as far as I can tell, Cloverfield is faring pretty well. I believe it has a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes right now.

Mike - I'm glad you liked Cloverfield too. I as well thought of Starship Troopers when I saw the little monsters.