(Notice: Spoilers Ahead)
By far, the best thing about Cloverfield was the previews hyping its release.
Granted, by the time I finally got around to watching it on DVD, I’d seen the creature, but that’s really about all I knew. I hadn’t heard much about the storyline or any major revelations. Of course, I now realize why that was-there aren’t any.
Here’s what happens: Some twenty-somethings are throwing a going away party for their friend. They document testimonials from friends and the pre-party preparations on a video camera so he can watch it when he gets to Japan. He shows up, is surprised, and loves it. His friend who he happened to sleep with a few weeks before shows up with another guy, they fight, she leaves. He reveals to his friends that he never called her after their “special day.” Then a giant monster attacks Manhattan, and they all flee in terror as the military shows up and shoots ineffective rockets. They capture their exodus on the same video camera, and when the scorned girl calls the “hero,” she pleads for him to come save her, she’s trapped under some rubble. He and his friends then risk life and limb to find her and rescue her, which they do, only to be killed by the monster’s parasites, the monster itself, as well as the eventual bombing of Manhattan by the military. But the good thing is, it was all caught on a camcorder which was eventually found, and that’s how we get to see the unfolding of what the military dubbed “Cloverfield.”
The narrative technique really astounded me. The movie starts off with a recording of the “hero” and his love’s special day after they sleep together, then moves into the going away party because the “hero’s” brother and friend don’t realize they shouldn’t be taping over it. When they turn off the camera in the “real-time” of the movie, it reverts back to the special day from weeks previous, which was a pretty cool touch. That, along with the hand-held feel of the movie, truly gave me a sense that I witnessed the events of the film as they actually unfolded. That practice heightened the tension and made for an exciting visual experience.
Speaking of which, the special effects were beautiful as was the method of revealing the monster only in glimpses and snippets. Remember, we were virtually getting a “first-person” view of events, so if the shaky hand-held didn’t go for a close-up on the creature, we didn’t see it.
Sadly, that’s where the good ends. The acting was atrocious, the dialogue lowered my I.Q. by at least twenty-points (and I can’t spare them!). They somehow took my favorite word, “dude,” and made me hate it. What little story existed was clichéd and insulting. Those looking for answers as to what the monster was, where it came from, and why it attacked Manhattan got absolutely no closure at all.
With J.J. Abrams producing (he of LOST fame), I really expected better. He says he was inspired by seeing Godzilla everywhere in Japan toy shops while there promoting a different movie. He’s gone on record professing the wish to create an “American” monster that clawed its way into the social conscience as had Godzilla in Japan. What he failed to realize, though, is that we actually have to care about the monster and the people its killing. I, for one, was so annoyed by the whining and obnoxious external ponderings of the primary video taper, I couldn’t wait for him to cash it in so I wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore.
Finally, I really thought it was in bad taste to mimic so precisely the fall of the Twin Towers and the terrible events of that day. A building can fall in a movie-I get that-but to copy people running down the streets and taking shelter in storefronts so exactly, I found it offensive and creatively apathetic.
Cloverfield would appear to be a movie totally dependent upon its marketing and hype. I’m sure for those who saw it in the theatre and were firmly entrenched in the “now” of its mysterious campaigns, it was quite satisfying. Months later, though, now that it’s out on DVD, it doesn’t hold up on its own merit.