Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Hype can be a horrible thing. So can shaky hand held camera work. Ever since The Blair Witch Project, people have tried to copy the success of that film by combining those elements, along with others. Cloverfield is no different. A viral marketing campaign started early, with trailers and websites, and only grew bigger as time went on, right up until it's release. I remember seeing the first teaser for it, probably six months or more before it was scheduled to open, and thinking - "I don't know whether this is going to be a complete piece of crap, or the greatest thing I've ever seen". 2006's Children of Men gave us a more formal disaster film, but in a slightly different way, in that the disaster had already happened, and the film focused on the aftermath (favorite film of 2006, by the way). Cloverfield struck me as a film with similar energy and conflict, but focusing on a much more compressed time frame.

The film opens with us meeting Rob and Beth, two people who appear to be a couple in love. We share a few moments with them, before the camera becomes the recording device for Rob's going away party (which occurs a month after the Rob/Beth events). We spend (way too much) time with Rob and his friends, as they all wish Rob a happy life with his new job in Japan. We meet Jason, Rob's brother, Jason's girlfriend Lily, his best friend Hud (who ends up being part of the reason that this movie is watchable on a continous basis, and who also serves as the camera operator for the majority of the film), and Beth shows up, a little late, and with another man. We find out that Rob and Beth were best friends that slept together, and then drifted apart afterwards (ahh... There had to be at least one semi-cheesy caveat to this whole story, didn't there?). We also meet Lilly's friend, Marlena, whom Hud has a serious crush on.

There's not much I can tell you that either isn't already in the trailer, or wouldn't give the movie away, so I'll just go at this from a more technical perspective. First off, Cloverfield rocked my balls off. Although the extended party sequence does get very old, very quick, once you hear the monster for the first time, the film DOES NOT STOP from there. It is a roller coaster ride for the next hour and fifteen minutes or so, and is very unapologetic about it. We are with Rob and his friends, as they try to navigate themselves out of the city, until the very end, following along with them in the most vicarious way we can - through there "home movie" of the events, as they actually happen.

Cloverfield looks like crap. Shot on a cheap, consumer camcorder, the film really does look like a home movie (if the amateur filmmaker behind it had a couple of million for CGI effects). The CGI was pretty incredible, except for the monster. I'm sorry folks, but they all look the same - Not Real. The CGI Statue of Liberty head, along with the CGI New York City, looked incredible, though, with such horrible resolution, and the film being made at night, it probably gave the effects folks a little easier time.

The acting, to the extent that people running around, scared out of their minds, could be called acting, was great. The actor who played Hud, especially, was spot on with his comedic lines, even if you barely see him in the film.

One thing that I give major props to the filmmakers on, though, was leaving so much open for the audience. By doing so, but NOT giving the audience answers, they are allowing us, as an audience, to experience everything exactly how Rob and his crew are experiencing it - in a state of shock, fear, and awe. Because of this, you end up feeling like you are the closest you can possibly be to actually being in the story. You feel connected to these characters, because your on the exact same level as them. You feel their horror, their sadness, their pain, because you experience it with them.

All in all, I would say Cloverfield is one of the few films of the past decade that is worth the massive amount of hype behind it. There isn't much of a story - a monster comes out of nowhere and starts leveling the city - but Cloverfield isn't about that. It's about the ride, and the ride was very fun.

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