Cloverfield

Cloverfield

 

They say that there are only two certainties in life: Death and taxes.  I believe that there is a third: Whining.   See? I illustrated my point.  Dang!  I’m good.  When Cloverfield came out back in 2008, I wanted to see it.  Back then, my job made mundane things, like going to a  movie, difficult.   I had to choose my movies with care and plan well in advance.

After hearing that it was filmed in a Blair Witchy, cinema verite style and that the camera shook so badly that Roger Ebert dubbed it “Queasy-Cam,” I felt distinctly less enthusiastic about the whole thing.  Movie theaters were getting so many complaints that some theaters started posting warnings stating the Cloverfield might cause motion slickness.  People also whined about Cloverfield not living up to the hype.  People whined that setting the story in New York  post 9-11 was exploitive.  People whined that Cloverfield made them fat and ate their babies.   People whined.  That was enough for me.  I crossed Cloverfield off my “To Do” list.    I forgot that the wisdom of the crowds is often the wiz-dumb of the crowds.  That was a mistake.

The movie opens with Rob Hawkins and Beth McIntyre having a “morning after.”   They have a day planned together at Coney Island.  We find out later that the two have been friends for a long time previously and  . . .  and I’m really boring myself just thinking about it.  We skip forward in time.  Rob’s brother Jason and his girlfriend Lilly are throwing a surprise party for Rob, who is leaving for Japan.  Jason tricks Rob’s friend Hud into videoing the guest’s “good-bye messages” as a memento for Rob to take with him.  During the whole boring episode we learn that Hud has a crush on Marlena, one of the other guests.  We also learn the Hud isn’t too sharp.  Remember that Hud spelled backwards is . . . duh.   Beth shows up to the party.  Rob says something stupid to her.  I’m bored and hoping something interesting happens soon.  It does.

Rob, Jason and Hud step out onto the fire escape to discuss their man-periods or something.  Again, I just don’t care.  What I do care about is that building seems to shudder, the lights go out and amid the sounds of car alarms there is a distinct roar.  Yes!  Our lads immediately head back into Rob’s crowded, dark apartment to join in the panic.  The lights quickly return and we learn from a TV news bulletin that an oil tanker has come aground on Liberty Island.  Rob, and the gang, head up to the roof of the building to see what’s going on in the harbor.  What they see is a large building uptown explode with a large number of its flaming chunks taking to the sky, with at least one heading right towards them.  They decide to leave the roof just ahead of the burning debris’ arrival.  They go one step further, wisely leaving the building.

Once they get down to the street, it soon becomes apparent, even to Hud,  that this isn’t an earthquake.  It’s a monster. We see a bit of the beastie as it moves behind the buildings several blocks down the street.  It’s big . . . like Godzilla big. It knocks down a building, sending Rob, Jason, Hud and Lilly scurrying into a bodega to escape the dust cloud from a nearby building’s collapse.  The earth shakes as the beastie  passes by, windows explode and the power goes out.  Shortly after the dust settles; Jason, Rob, Hud, and Lilly go back out to the street where they find Marlena, who is clearly in shock.  Marlena, in a quiet voice,  lets us know that the monster is eating people.  Yes!  Jason then suggests that they get the heck out Manhattan, which is met with a chorus of affirmations.  That’s really the plot.  A giant monster does a “Monsters Attack” routine on New York.  Our heroes search for their missing friend and try to escape the city.

When I opt for a “Giant Monsters Stomp a City” kind of movie, I’m looking to see a good monster.  It doesn’t have to look totally real, but it must be visually interesting.  Toho’s Godzilla (and other daikaiju) movies are pretty far from realistic, but they’re interesting and fun to watch.  Up until recently, the giant monster effects have been mostly guys in rubber monster suits smashing model tanks,  stop motion animation, or animatronics. With the advent of CGI, we have one more way these monsters can be brought to the screen, and one more way this can be made to suck.

I’ve never had a real problem with suspension of disbelief when it came to the older methods.  Yeah, they didn’t appear 100% real, but that’s okay.  CGI, when it looks good, looks good; however, when it looks bad it looks like total dog vomit– cheap, fake,  plastic dog vomit.  CGI also has the disadvantage of having the same shelf life as sushi.  Today’s cutting edge CGI is tomorrow’s bad video game cut-scene.  Cloverfield has a very good GCI.  Most of the monster scenes are good.  The only one that was disappointing was the full reveal near the end.  That bit looked a little dated.  The scenes nearer the beginning of the movie, where we see the monster moving between and through buildings were impressive.  The monster looks good.

The next quality in a good “Giant Monsters Stomp a City” is the entertainment value. Even the worst Godzilla movies are still fun.  Cloverfield is fun.  Once we get past the boring over-grown high school-ish drama of Rob’s going away party, things get moving nicely.  It’s one big jog through Monsterland until the movie ends.  There is no time to get bored.  The characters and situation are just interesting enough to draw you in for the ride.  On the other hand, I didn’t care enough about the characters in this movie to feel at all bad if they died or got eaten.

Cloverfield is visually solid.  I didn’t have a problem with the “Queasy-Cam.”  Most of the jerky motion occurs when the characters are running, aside from that, there is a little bit of gentle drift in many scenes.  Many of the shots are framed close and tight, which really makes it feel like a home movie without making it look amateurish and unwatchable.

It’s an interesting take on the subject.  We don’t normally get to see a Giant Monster Attack from the point of view of the running crowd, at least not for long.  Usually we shift from perspective to perspective,  from a victim to the hero, from the hero to a third person perspective watching the monster from afar then  to another victim.  In Cloverfield we stick with a small group to the end of the movie.

Oh, and to the people that whined about Cloverfield being insensitive regarding 9-11 . . . grow up.  It’s a monster movie.  There are about a million things that I can think of that are 9-11 related that one can reasonably be angry over.  Cloverfield isn’t one of them.

Starring:
Lizzy Caplan
Jessica Lucas
T.J. Miller
Michael Stahl-David
Mike Vogel
Odette Yustman

Screenplay:
Drew Goddard

Director:
Matt Reeves

Three out of five Vincents

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