Thursday, January 24, 2008


We saw this at Grauman's Chinese Theatre last night. The iconic Hollywood landmark is the perfect venue for this special effects laden horror movie. Unfortunately the film didn't quite live up to the auspicious screen on which it was projected. There seems to be two trains of thought when it comes to Cloverfield: one that it is AWESOME, the other that it's awful.

I actually sit between the two camps.

Cloverfield is a monster movie plain and simple. It is shot as if it were "found" footage ala The Blair Witch Project--ostensibly the digital camera of one of the characters in the story. Many people found the shaky camera work off putting. It even made some viewers nauseous--my friend Teri walked out after ten minutes. It didn't bother me. My brother and I debated the technique and I felt it did add immediacy and intimacy to the story.

At 84 minutes, Cloverfield pretty much races along--after the 20 minute long set up anyway. And this is perhaps its biggest flaw in my opinion. Another 15 minutes wouldn't have made the audience squirm in boredom (hell, if they can sit through over three hours of Lord of the Rings, they can hang in for a 2 hours monster movie!) and would have helped with character development and pacing. The only character development we get is the opening setup where the exposition of who's who and what's what is laid out for us in an unimaginative fashion during a going away party being thrown for one of the lead characters. Wouldn't it have been more effective for the amateur videographer to eavesdrop on conversations rather than forcing contrived testimonials? Wouldn't we as the audience have learned more from the unguarded moments?

By giving the film more time to develop the characters--even as they're on the run from the monster--we would have been able to form more of a connection with them and cared whether or not they survived. The pacing was full throttle once the monster shows up on the scene--by inserting moments of reprieve, we could have had time to get to know the heroes as well as time to develop tension and suspense. Think of a rollercoaster climbing up the track slowly--and then releasing into a freefall down the hill, only to repeat the process again. Those climbs, or building of tension, is what allows us to feel the cathartic rush of being scared. There were few builds in Cloverfield and thus, it just wasn't all that scary.

There were a lot of complaints that we don't get to see the monster. Please--there were plenty of shots of the monster. Those who didn't see the monster probably were actually scared and had their eyes shut. Although there really wasn't much that was scary. I thought I Am Legend and The Orphanage were much scarier than Cloverfield. And No Country for Old Man did a much better job of keeping me on the edge of my seat. Beyond the too short running time, lack of character development and general absence of tension and scariness, I had some other issues with Cloverfield:

1. Why poor NYC AGAIN?!!! The beginning scenes of the monster attack looked eerily reminiscent of 9/11--a bit too close for comfort for me. Hasn't the Big Apple suffered enough? It's been subjected to stompings by Godzilla, King Kong commandeering the Empire State Building and overrun by vampire/zombies in I Am Legend. Enough is enough! Pick on some other American city for a change--like Boise, Idaho or Butte, Montana...

2. Personally if a skyscraper sized monster was breathing down my neck, I doubt I'd be wasting time filming it. I'd be getting my ass the hell out of there!

3. The monster was big, but Manhattan is still bigger. So how is it that wherever our heroes ended up, the monster was right there with them? I'm not an expert in monster psychology, but if I just stomped through midtown, knocking over building and leaving death and destruction in my wake, I'd move on to greener pastures. What's the fun of stomping over something you've just destroyed? It's like trying to pop bubblewrap twice. And why is the monster so pissed off anyway? He/she almost seems premeditated and vindicative. Maybe he/she wasted $7.50 on Alvin and the Chipmunks...

4. Two of the male leads and two of the female leads were so similar in physical appearance, it was confusing. (Although to be fair, the male leads were supposed to be brothers...) Add the shaky, blurry camera work and it took me a while to figure out who was who...

5. Lack of resolution or explanation: origin of the monster, status of the monster, did Lily survive, etc., etc., etc. I don't mind ambiguous endings, but it seems too much was left hanging in this movie. For one, I'd love to know how the hell the head of the Statue of Liberty gets catapulted all the way from Staten Island into the middle of downtown (or maybe it was uptown...) . From what I saw, the monster had those stunted dinosaur arms. Not like he/she could be expected to heave a Hail Mary into the middle of Manhattan...

Interesting premise, incomplete execution.

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