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22nd Feb 08
Young Americans find their going-away party spectacularly interrupted by a massive beastie that is tearing apart New York.
When Cloverfield’s first trailer played before screenings of 2007’s Transformers movie, there was no accompanying name to give the audience a clue as to what the film was actually called. All the trailer showed was a brief, huge explosion in New York City, the Statue of Liberty’s head thrown down a street, all caught on a hand-held camera, ending with just the release date.
The result of this was that the internet community went ballistic trying to figure out what the film was about. They knew that JJ Abrams was involved so perhaps was this a big screen spin on his popular Lost TV series? The advertising campaign made for a refreshing alternative to the saturation other new releases inflict upon us. Consider both the new Batman and Indiana Jones movies, they have yet to be released but I feel like I have seen them already.
The hype paid off handsomely with the movie’s estimated $25-30million budget made back on just its North American opening weekend to the tune of $46.1million. This set a new record for a movie released in January. Unfortunately interest dropped off rapidly meaning that whilst still making money - $83.7million in the States by the end of January – Cloverfield had failed to reach the wider audience it so deserves. What it did do though is prove that not all new releases that generate internet interest are going to flop as did Snakes on a Plane.
Director Matt Reeves, along with writer Drew Goddard, both of whom have worked with producer JJ Abrams for TV, have re-invented the monster-on-the-rampage movie. Think of Cloverfield as The Blair Witch Godzilla Project and you have some idea of the format. It’s all wobbly hand-held camera shots recording the carnage as an ugly monster stomps around. They drew their initial inspiration for the movie from the poster to John Carpenter’s cult flick Escape from New York which shows the Statue of Liberty’s head lying in the street, an image which ends up as a key scene in the film.
The wobbly camerawork will not be to everyone’s tastes – or stomachs – indeed one of our party was a little unsure of their footing for a solid day afterwards. For those that can cope with it they will find that the format works better here than it did within 1999’s Blair Witch partly because of what we are shown through their lens.
With the Blair Witch arguably all we saw were three squabbling nobodies, a snotty nose and little else, whereas here the camerawork is melded against some stunning visuals, drawing the viewer into a situation that feels palpably real and there’s very little let up after the initial set up. You find yourself ducking and weaving making for a full-on interactive cinematic experience. The sound design is awesome too so make sure you see it at a venue / watch on a TV with a decent sound system.
Cloverfield is well acted by a generic looking cast of nobodies which is kind of how they will end up staying. The real star here is the movie itself, an eighty four minute rollercoaster where there’s no getting off. It’s intense stuff with images that will resonate with its target audience and helps ground the events more. Take for example how when all hell is breaking lose around them that the first thing most people do when faced with the severed head of the Statue of Liberty is to take photos / footage on their phones. You just KNOW that this is what people really would do rather than run away from there.
Monsters in movies are a mixed bag – for every Ridley Scott’s Alien there’s a Roland Emmerich Godzilla where the monster just looks like a mess of ideas from a committee that failed to make a cohesive whole. Reeves gives us tantalizing peeks of his Cloverfield monster early on, which helps build up the tension, but then kind of over-eggs the cake with too much of it later on. The close-up of the beastie in Central Park come the climax appears to be serving no other purposes than to sell a tie-in toy for an audience that is much too young to cope with the intensity of this movie.
Director Reeves cleverly maintains the illusion that this is all for real ensuring that you are on the edge of your seat throughout. With the exception of a dodgy top of building scene that is so obviously a set, Reeves has you buy into his premise wholesale even the concept of someone relentlessly filming events when his own life and others, are in danger.
Relentless paced and full of surprises – just loving that tube station scene – why would anyone give a stuff about bothering with characterization? Doing so would take away from the realistic feel the makers are all about achieving. Within its short running time Cloverfield manages to be twice the monster movie that Peter Jackson’s take on King Kong was, and arguably the equal of Joon-Ho Bong’s The Host when it comes to delivering on cinematic thrills. The odd slight quibble aside Reeves’ Cloverfield is the sort of genre-busting surprise that will inspire future filmmakers. It really is that good!
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