Monday, January 21, 2008

Review: Cloverfield

I went to another new movie recently. It has been getting all sorts of hype and love from various SF venues, and I figured that I would give into the hype. After all, the last time something was produced via the handheld cameraPOV we were given the original Blair Witch Project. Anyways, Cloverfield is J. J. Abrams' attempt at producing a monster movie. It was written by Drew Goddard and directed by Matt Reeves. Neither of whom have a long list of laurels upon which to rest. In fact according most of their work has been on television shows. Which in some ways may explain the 84 minute running time.

Which truth be told, I think that 84 minute listing found on IMDB is way over what it's run time really is. Unless there's 30 minutes worth of credits. The showing I went to began at 2 in the afternoon. There was the usual twenty minutes of of previews, and I was back in my car by 3:38. I had no expectations on the movie being THAT short, and am ecstatic that I did see it during a matinee showing, as I'd have been quite irate at paying full ticket prices for such a short film.

But I digress. I was excited about going to see a new monster movie. It's been a while since I saw one, and I was actually looking forward to it. I was happy about going to it, even when there are more, SF-specific movies that are either out now (In the Name of the King, Waterhorse) or upcoming (The Eye, Jumper, & the Spiderwick Chronicles) or even compared to non-genre flicks that look highly interesting to me such as Juno.

Anyways, the plot is pretty much a traditional monster movie, not unlike any of the old Godzilla flicks. The catch here is that it is that the point of view is hard and fast against one of the characters, by way of a hand-held digital video camera. Not, scratch that. The monster aspect is not the plot. This was a rescue-the-girl plot, with the monster being the prime antagonist. Unfortunately, this particular execution of this plot left a lot to be desired.

You can go one of two ways with Monster movies: campy such as Godzilla 2000, or serious such as Matthew Broderick's Godzilla. As a side-note, I call the Broderick Godzilla a "serious" movie because the characters, and the producers take the concept and the monster seriously, as opposed to the Godzilla 2000 movie in which the camp and amusement was on purpose. Cloverfield is firmly in the serious camp here, with both the characters and those who created this movie, firmly serious about it.

As for characters, there's a decent set cast. The nominal protagonist, by virtue of holding the camera through most of the film isHud Platt . He is best friends with the nominal 'hero' of the flick, Rob Hawkins. Rounding out the cast of characters are: Rob's brother Jason; Jason's girlfriend Lily;Hud's love interest Marlena (who also received top billing for this movie; look for her in such films as Mean Girls and a host of TV shows.) and finally the proverbial damsel Beth.

Out of that cast list, we get the most character development between Rob and Beth. By virtue of flashbacks found in the video. It's an interesting way to create, and inform the viewers, of theback story, and worked fairly well.

The actual filming of the story was not that bad. In fact it looked a whole lot better than some of the home made hand held videos that I've seen in the past. And it works better as far as the story telling aspect goes than Doom's miserable attempt at a POV camera.

What struck me the most is that this is the first time in a while that I've really noticed a 'destroy New York' movie. I mean in the nineties we were given things such as Independence Day, Deep Impact, Mars Attacks! and of course Godzilla. All of these films actively destroyed New York. After the 9/11 attacks the biggest destruction on screen would be 2004's The Day After Tomorrow; where New York was hit by a tidal wave and then froze. Other films after the terrorist attacks implied New York's destruction (A.I., War of the Worlds, The Time Machine) but we really didn't get to see the explosions.

Yet, my innate love of destruction and big explosions, did nothing to help this film.

First off, this was a monster movie, in the vein of Godzilla. We WANT to see the monster, clearly and distinctly. The more times the better.

But again, I have to stop that line of thinking. This was not a monster movie, this was a rescue-the-girl movie. As such, we can then forgive the director that the monster gets so little screen time. What we can't forgive is the less-than-stellar thrills. Every time something goes bump or is in some way supposed to give the audience a thrill, the action is rather telegraphed. I did not find anything that even made me jump in my seat; something which even I am Legend accomplished.

If you're going to see this movie, expecting a good monster movie, as I was, you'll be utterly disappointed. If you're after the rescue-the-girl movie which it ultimately is, you'll be happier, but I'm still left with something of a cold feeling about it. In my opinion, there was not enough characterizations in the film for us to truly connect with them, nor feel fear for them.

As I said earlier, I was happy that I didn't pay full price for a film that was as short as this one; but I am doubly happy that I didn't pay full price just because I didn't like the film.

I'm sad that I wasted a chance to go to the movies on this film. I'd have rather watched Juno, or waited until around Valentine's Day when I could go see Jumper. Unfortunately, what is done, is done.

Ultimately, I have to give it a .6 out of 4. I would have gone lower, but I have to give it props for a few things:

  1. flashbacks
  2. handheld video camera format
  3. marketing chutzpa

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