Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review: Cloverfield

Okay...Here goes...

You may disagree, and that's fine. A lot of people do. But I thought Cloverfield was...AWESOME! Oh, WOW, it was SOO FREAKING INTENSE! Really, a great monster movie. I'd recommend it, you might wait till the dollar movies if you're so inclined. But at one point, I was bitting my fist...hard...and didn't realize it till that scene was over and the pain set in.

Okay, I'll settle down and do a real review.

Cloverfield, in case you didn't know, is a bit different. The first trailer was released at the opening of Transformers with no title. Just a release date. Interest was piqued, and people (myself included) went a'lookin'. The studio delivered with a steady stream of viral marketing websites, with further hints trickling in right till release time.

I felt like I had a pretty good idea what to expect going in the theater. I've seen virtually everything that has been officially released on the web, and I've read a lot of the unofficial blogs, forums, discussion boards, and theories. This dumb movie has been in my crazy dreams, for crying out loud. I felt ready.

I was not.

When the previews are over, the lights dim, and the feature starts, we begin with a bit of a preface. Plain text informs us what we are watching United States government property that was found in what was formerly known as Central Park. The tape begins to roll, continuing on from a morning well before the attack, to Rob's surprise birthday party, to the roof, the streets, the subway, and on through to the gritty end.

Not many surprises in story development. Big monster, big city, lots of very panicky people. You're familiar with the drill. The innovation of this film was elsewhere.

Obviously the first-person diegetic perspective of the entire film is a point of great interest. Not a new concept though. I think The Blair Which Project did it first, with great success. There is even some not-so-subtle homage to Blair Witch near the end of Cloverfield. What Cloverfield did was take the technique to the logical extreme, with heavy special effects that maintain the look of home video footage. All the "editing" is done as Hud, our humble documentarian and comedic relief, learns to use the camera, sometimes allowing old footage to roll. I think part of the reason I liked Hud so much was because on some level I really identified with him. Plus he was just a funny dummy.

Another point of interest was the monster. What does it look like? Where did it come from? What does it think of New York? Well, there are no easy answers.

Wondering what it looks like? You get mostly glimpses, but I'll say this; you won't be disappointed. It is NOT Godzilla, not by a long shot. Very original, and you see it enough to satisfy. Good on ya, J.J.

Wondering where the monster came from? So am I. The movie never explains it, as we are only watching a relic, the found tape from one group of victims. The screenwriter Drew Goddard says,"Our movie doesn't have the scientist in the white lab coat who shows up and explains things like that. We don't have that scene." Maybe in the sequel.

The other thing was the viral marketing. I've already bored you enought with that. If you don't know the backstory via the viral material, don't worry, the movie is great, and stands on it's own. If you have seen the viral stuff, you'll just get a lot more out of what would have been meaningless detail.

The genius of Cloverfield was in it's synthesis and scale. Nothing it did was that new. But those tricks had never been pulled together in such a big way. There is something to be said for choreography, the right things at the right time, when too much of ANY would ruin the recipe.

Apparently Steven Spielberg called George Lucas immediately afterwards to tell him how great it was. Neat. But while those are glowing reviews from two of the most successful film makers ever, that hardly makes it canon. Reviews are very divided, amongst critics, the masses, and even our little group that went Friday night. I loved it, but at least one person left in what appeared to be genuine anger and disgust. To each his own.

This video from New York Magazine illustrates the point.

Johnny Lollerskates had an interesting observation. Since I can't put it any better than he does, I quote:

"Someone mentioned somewhere that Godzilla was a product of post-Hiroshima angst, which accounts for Japanese fetish for having their cities demolished. Now that New Yorkers have had their "Hiroshima"with 9/11 (being New Yorkers, they're self-centered and delusional enough to actually draw a comparison), they believe they also deserve their own Godzilla movie, which draws upon similar angst."
Another good observation by a commenter at New York Magazine again:

"The movie is like 'Blair Witch Project' meets 'Godzilla' meets 'Halflife 2'."
That seems like a pretty fitting summation.

Tips for when you go see Cloverfield:

1. I am normally one to sit closer rather than further in a theater. Not this time. If you have any inclination to motion sickness, sit toward the back. The camera work is so shaky, I actually wonder if this one won't play better as a DVD, not even factoring all the supplemental material they've already produced. I personally know at least three people who became physically ill. I'll certainly be taking advantage of the theater room at our house when the DVD is released. You should come over. And maybe you should bring some dramamine.

That being said, leave the kids at home, and go see this in the theater with a really nice sound system and a big screen.

2. If you have followed any of the viral marketing, you may be acquainted with Jaime and Teddy. Look for Jaime, she is passed out at Rob's party. That's an example of what you'll notice if you've been following all this jazz.

3. Don't leave the theater till ALL the credits are done rolling. Listen. I made the mistake of taking off before the they finished, only to find out there was just a little more story I could have gotten, and trust me, you'll be wanting a little more story. It's an ever more popular technique to continue the story as the credits roll, and even play just a little bit more when the credits are over. Not new, Masters of the Universe did that, Ferris Beuller did it. Now it seems the rule rather than the exception.

A WORD OF CAUTION: This movie is actually very intense. Some people don't like that. It may keep them up at night. Cloverfield would certainly terrify children. Only go see this if you're up for it.

And yes, Jake, the Star Trek trailer looks awesome.


j said...

Just saw this today (matinee). I enjoyed the idea of doing the Godzilla movie from the perspective of the average individual. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but it was cool.

Did you catch the splashdown in the ocean in the very final scene?

Austin said...

I don't know how, but no, I missed the splashdown. I know what you're talking about because I've read about it post-viewing, but I totally missed it. Lame, right?

Michelle Harris said...

wow. hmm. I guess maybe I should see this.

Austin said...

Like I said, if you're up for it.

Justin said...

Great review Austin... I thought the movie was awesome! I really hope there is a new trend to enhance the movie experience through viral marketing...

Jasie said...

dang it! I usually never leave the theatre until the credits are done rolling...I'm sorry we missed whatever it was that happened there.

Great review! That was a pretty awesome movie.