Entries Comments

Movie Review: Cloverfield

Cloverfield (Paramount, 2008)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Drew Goddard

When I think about films I’ve seen in January over the years, titles come to mind such as Deep Rising, Virus, Torque, and Cabin Boy. None of those probably bring to mind very good memories, and they don’t for the Doc either. This January we got promised an honest to God event movie that would put all those theories about films at the beginning of the year not performing well to rest. We got that in the form of J.J. Abram’s monster movie opus, Cloverfield.

While I was looking forward to this film, and I think anyone who saw that teaser eight months ago had to at least be a little curious, that January date still scared me a bit. Then I thought back to seeing that teaser eight months ago, and realizing that the only thing even resembling a title was that release date displayed so ominously. I then decided that this was Abrams and director Matt Reeves intention all along. It was their ambition, possibly, to give us a big movie to start the year off on a positive note where in the past we’ve had to usually wait until around Valentines Day before anything worth a damn would grace the multiplexes.

So far, this has paid off pretty well for them. The movie is projected to make around 41 million dollars this weekend; easily breaking any past January record holder in to a million pieces. They gave us a monster movie to kick off the New Year in more ways than one, but is it any good?

Cloverfield, if nothing else, is a one of a kind film. Most reviewers are calling it Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. I don’t disagree with that, but I think it’s a little annoying as a viewer because it has very little in common with either film with the exception of the broad strokes that have been used on its main palette. If I had to take the comparison angle, I would call it The Bourne Ultimatum meets War of the Worlds (The Spielberg version).

Like Blair Witch, it uses the handheld camera approach. The film focuses on a group of twenty-somethings running around the city trying to save some of their other friends while staying alive themselves, and one of the crew, Hud (T.J. Miller), has a camcorder on him the whole time and is capturing all of the destruction and mayhem. The film is told in the aftermath and the video is labeled at the beginning as being Top Secret government property.

However, the film has a completely different feel than the equally cool and original Blair Witch Project and I would say that this film takes this type of film into a whole different direction. This is easily the best use of this type of film capturing since Project, and in some ways is even better.

The Bourne films reference comes from the fact that the action is captured in a very, what I would call, “shaky” fashion. It feels as if we are literally running around with these people and being attacked ourselves (If you can manage it, I would recommend sitting a little farther back in the theater; it can make you feel a little nauseous at times if you’re too close.). Despite the sick feeling you might get if you’re in one of the first few rows, I think this type of camera work gives the film a more personal feeling for you as an audience member.

I’ve heard some critics say that these modern characters have probably been using a handheld since they were kids and they could probably do a better job of keeping a steady hand on the whole production. I argue with that as first, you are completely missing the point, and second, did you expect them to be running with a tripod as well?

My War of the Worlds comparison comes from the fact that we have a completely civilian focus on the events. In the Godzilla films and most other monster movies, it’s usually scientists and the military being at the forefront of the story. Spielberg took a stab at having an alien invasion film be told from the everyman’s perspective; Spielberg didn’t do as near a good a job as Abrams and Reeves did, however. We do get to see the military in a couple of segments, but all of that still comes from our main group’s angle, and that makes the film all the more effective.

Matt Reeves gives the film a great look that most of these types of films don’t have. While the entire film comes from the perspective of one camera, there was obviously some money put into the production. There is a jaw dropping sequence on the Brooklyn Bridge that had the Doc gripping his armrests. There is another pretty cool sequence in the subway tunnels involving the creature’s babies attacking our group of heroes.

The creature itself is also a very cool creation. I don’t even really know how to explain it. I can tell you it’s big as hell and scary too boot. My best comparison would be the giant monster at the end of last year’s The Mist, but even that doesn’t do this thing justice.

My favorite aspect of the film, though, was the lack of explanation. We don’t learn where this thing came from, or why it’s here. Usually in monster movies you get some stupid environmental message about how we created it by dumping nuclear turds in the ocean or some such mess. I appreciated that Abrams and company stuck to the broad concept of a monster attacking NY and how these people react to it. The film is intense and brisk (1 hour and 24 minutes), which is perfect because it actually does start losing some steam in the last five minutes or so.

The film also has a lot of nice little touches. There is some honest to God great dialogue exchanges and humor that actually sound like what real people would say in this situation; one complaint I’ve had of Abrams in the past is that people really don’t talk the way he has them speak in his films. Everything Philip Seymour Hoffman says in Mission Impossible III is the best example of this problem that I can give you. I was also surprised at how good some of the acting was; I wasn’t expecting much in the performance department in a big monster movie. Lizzie Kaplan (Mean Girls) was a notable standout in the film, and I thought our main character, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) was quite effective.

Complaint-wise, I have nothing major. I already mentioned that the film exhausts its energy by the end of the film, and the last five minutes are a bit of a letdown and not much of a surprise. Strangely, the one big plot point that kept bugging me was the fact that Hud is carrying this camera the whole time, but you could also look at that as it was his way of coping with what was going on. Maybe he thought if he was documenting the whole thing, something good could come of it. I don’t know; I kind just went with it after a little while; people have been known to do stranger things.

Overall, I found the film to be a very entertaining piece of popcorn filmmaking, and it had enough creative juices flowing through it, that it really does stand out a little above your average event film. I’m not sure I would call it a masterpiece, like the Projectionist did, but I know I enjoyed the hell out of it. I highly recommend it. What the hell else are you going to go see? Mad Money? Come on!


Sam Loomis

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.