Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

The hype for this movie has been building steadily ever since the cryptic trailer premiered in front of The Transformers last summer. First all there was was the name J.J. Abrams, the guy behind the hit TV show Lost, and the date 1-18-08. Then some cryptic websites popped up, begging people to find answers... but not really giving any. Then in the past few weeks, a new trailer with a second or two of a monster leg just heaped buzz on top of the pile that had already formed. So today, the question is finally answered... was Cloverfield worth the build up?

Woah, woah, woah Nelly...set it up for us a bit...

Ok, as the movie starts, we see a bunch of weird Government Department of Defense screens, when some intro text flashes on the screen that the video we're about to see was found in the area that "used" to be known as Central Park. Wow. Ok, talk about setup. We know by just seeing the trailer that part of the Big Apple gets blowed up real good...but the area that USED TO BE CENTRAL PARK???? This movie now has my full, and undivided attention.

For the next hour and a half, every second of video we see is taken from the video found inside a home video camera. So we start out seeing people out shopping, getting ready for a going away party. Interspersed are some bits of the underlying video they are unwittingly recording over. This video shows a couple of people out on a couple dates from a couple months prior to the current night. Nothing that really seems too important to the story at this point (but rather poignant later), mostly just some background on the people we are obviously going to be following. Soon we are at the party itself, and the cameraman is going around getting going away messages from other party goers and other such merrymaking. Again, we're just getting to understand some personal dynamics between certain members of the party when the house began to twitch. The city began to pitch. Yes, what is believed to be an earthquake hits the City, and an oil tanker capsizes near the Statue of Liberty. So they decide to go up on the roof to try and get a look at what's going on.

That's when the fun really starts.

So, we get it's a monster movie...why is this one different than the rest?

Well, on the surface, it really isn't. The big monster comes in, destroys a lot of buildings, kills a lot of people, and the government comes in to fight the monster. But to dig a little bit deeper, you start to see subtle differences. First off is the way the movie is shot. The easiest way to explain it is the monster movie version of The Blair Witch Project. The next thing I noticed is how quickly the military is mobilized to take on the monster. I'll get back to why this really stuck out to me in a bit. I think the third thing that really struck me was just how powerful this monster was. Now, I've seen some Godzilla movies, I know they can mess up a city fairly quickly...but this one destroys all of lower Manhattan, and gets near Midtown within SECONDS of its move onto land. Not to mention how the Statue of Liberty's head gets used as a bowling ball. That's a level of destruction I have never seen before, and that's not even talking about the Alien / facehugger / velociraptor parasites this bad boy seems to carry around for fun. This is one bad mofo.

You said something about questions...what kinds of questions?

If you don't want anything spoiled, you may want to skip this bit...

Because of the perspective the movie is shot from, there are far more questions than answers in this movie. This may leave a bad taste in some people's mouth. Some of the questions that ran through my mind while watching the movie, and thinking about it soon afterwards:

Where did this monster come from?
Are there more?
Did they actually kill the thing?
Does any part of New York still exist?
Since when did stores carry cell phone batteries that were already charged?
Where the heck did they find a video camera battery that lasts that long?
It's pretty obvious that the government knew about this being before the attack...why didn't they do something about it?

Final thoughts

As a disaster movie, I would have enjoyed seeing more of the destruction, but I understand fully why it wasn't shown. You still get to see plenty of building explode, lots of crumbling walls... the Empire State Building coming down like a cheap tent during a stiff breeze was alarmingly subtle, but effective at showing the raw power of this beast, and you do get to see up close and personal just how fierce it is. As a monster movie, I believe this has to be one of the most ferocious and strongest monsters I have ever seen. I mean, this thing takes a stealth bomber strafing to the back, and it barely phases the thing...that's STRONG. I really wish we were able to learn more about this thing.

One thing I want to mention, is how well humor is used to break up the action. There is a scene that takes place in the subway, and the personalities of the characters really come out and there are some genuinely big laughs. Maybe it's just out of how unexpected it is for someone to crack a joke while trying to escape a monster that can take down the Brooklyn Bridge with one swipe, but for whatever reason, they had our audience laughing HARD for a good five-minute chunk of the film. That was a nice way to mix things up to make the audience lower their guard for just a few minutes before things get rolling again.

So there's Cloverfield. It didn't quite meet the hype I had built up, but I was not disappointed by the film, in fact I rather enjoyed it. I could definitely see two more movies coming out of this project. A prequel that explains the origins of the monster, and a sequel that gives closure to the whole insane experience. Because, let's face it, even though our story got closure...there's a whole lot more that happened once the camera shut off. I kind of hope those movies don't get made, because I think they may cheapen this experience. Of course, if they do make those movies...I will be there because I am so very intrigued by this monster right now. This movie gets a very solid B.

Next time, I don't have a planned movie to review. I'm thinking about digging into my stack of DVDs of made for TV disaster movies from the mid 1990s. Also, upcoming in a few weeks, we're going to take our first step outside the world of disaster movies, and into a disaster board game. Should be fun.

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