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Movie Review Cloverfield
 January 20, 2008
 
Grade:  C+
Director:  Matt Reeves Released:  January 2008
Writer:  Drew Goddard MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Players:  Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan Running time:  84 minutes
Ratings Methodology


 

Brilliant marketing campaign; middling monster movie.

Fans of Cloverfield, I can hear you now.  You think my inner child is dead, that I'm one of those uptight squares or too-cool-for-schools that doesn't know how to simply enjoy a good time at the movies.  I assure you my inner child is alive and kicking, and there are plenty of films, which are not cinematic art, I enjoy because they are fun.  No, my problem with Cloverfield is that it kept distracting me with it's lack of realism.  As for you, Cloverfield fan, I fear you already loved the film before you ever saw it - based on it's viral, smart, engaging marketing strategy (also known as Transmedia Storytelling).

When someone makes a movie and presents it as "found footage," they must make the audience believe the footage is authentic.  Every moment must ring true.  Every person, every event, every action must feel perfectly natural and perfectly real or they undermine the very premise of the film.  Every moment (and there were plenty) that breaks the realism and takes me out of the film for a second, kills any momentum the movie might have had.

Following are a few examples of said moments, and I strongly suggest you stop reading now unless you've already seen the film.

When they get attacked in the tunnel and one girl is being wrestled on the ground and seemingly eaten alive, the guy with the camera (Hud.  Heads Up Display.  Clever name for the guy who represents the audience point of view.) just stands there filming it.  Really?  When the girl he has a crush on is getting savagely attacked by an unknown creature, he's going to just stand there and film it?  I'm not saying he needs to be a hero and save her, but that is one option.  Another option is to run away.  Both options strike me as more likely to actually happen in life.

It reminds of the scene in An American Werewolf in London (EXCELLENT film, by the way) when the two main guys are attacked on the moors by a werewolf.  The one friend is being savaged, and the other friend, what does he do?  He runs away.  Then turns back, feeling guilty for leaving his friend behind.  The sequence is believable as a very human reaction, and they didn't even need a first-person, handheld, shaky-cam to pull it off.

Take the girl who cries and, during a very dramatic scene, sobs, "I don't know why this is happening!"  Could that line be more weak or delivered any lamer?  I think not.  Nobody I know, in the middle of a monster attack on their city, would cry and say "I don't know why this is happening!"  Remember 9/11?  Of course you do, because Cloverfield takes every opportunity to remind you of it.  Did you ever see a video of anyone in NYC on 9/11 crying and saying "I don't know why this is happening?"  No.

Back to the tunnel attack ... why were the protagonists able to so easily take care of the creatures as they encountered them, but the military personnel shown on the television screen in the electronics store seemed to be no match for the little buggers?

The Statue of Liberty's head did not look real.  It looked fake and poorly animated.  If you want me to believe this is hand held footage, the effects better look real.  Not close to real, not almost real ... real.  That Liberty head just did not cut it.

Why does everyone need to evacuate Manhattan?  Can the monster not find his way to Brooklyn or Queens?  Did the military find a way to confine it to the island?  Considering the overall ineffectiveness of the military's weapons, why would they think the monster would confine itself to Manhattan?  Seems to me like staying out of the monster's path would be prudent, but evacuating the city when you have no guarantee that the monster will stay in the city makes no sense.

I'm not listing this stuff because I'm nitpicking.  I'm listing it because these were the moments that took me out of the movie, the moments that reminded me it isn't found footage.  If I had thought these things AFTER the movie, that would be one thing.  But I thought then DURING the movie, which prevents me from suspending my disbelief.

As for the monster, I thought it was kind of cool.  I liked the way they showed only parts of him at a time for most of the movie, and I was hard pressed to identify exactly what those parts were.  Even after seeing him fully, he's still difficult to describe.  The creature was great, I thought he was sufficiently scary and sufficiently different from previous monsters.  However, I could have lived without that lingering close-up of his face.  The more mystery and the more fleeting glances the better, really.

There were some sequences I really enjoyed, particularly the tilted skyscraper experience, and the war in the streets that sneaked up on the protagonists.  The comedy worked fairly well.  So, there were definitely things I liked about this movie, just not enough to really love it.

One way Cloverfield works for me is as a commentary on America's reaction to serious threats.  First, everybody is scared, and we run.  Second, we unleash the military's heavy firepower to handle the problem.  Third, we reach a point where we don't care what we have to sacrifice in order to "win."

The thing is, I have no issues with the premise of the film, the hand held shake cam, the lack of explanation about the monster's nature ... I'm fine with all that.  As usual, I'm upset that this movie broke it's own rules.  It sets the movie up as one thing, but constantly reminds viewers that it is not that thing.

- crocoPuffs

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Am I the only person on the planet who realizes that the camcorder was not turned on for the entirety of the 8-10 hour ordeal?  I keep reading critics who are amazed at the camcorder's battery life.  The camera was only on for 75 minutes, the length of the film.  That's the whole point to the "flashbacks," the camera operator is turning the camera on and off and in the breaks we sometimes see the underlying footage of what was previously recorded on the tape.  How can they accurately review this film when they don't even understand that basic premise?


 

 
     
 
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