Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why "Cloverfield" is Great and You Haters are Idiots.

(That should get some attention.)

I just got back from an afternoon viewing of the much-publicized monster movie "Cloverfield."

As you see from the title, I thought it was great.

Here's the PBB premise recap and then my attempt at justifying the title-statement.

The Premise/Format: The entire film is made up of hand-held camera footage, shot by a handful of people. The earliest footage is Rob and his girlfriend Beth, and then it cuts to a month or two later (after they'd broken up). Most of the movie's "footage" is taped over the "Rob and Beth" home video of a trip to Coney Island, so you get brief cuts back to the original during the movie.

Rob is a young up-and-comer who just got hired as a VP in a Japanese company. His friends throw him a going-away party at their downtown apartment, and his best friend Hud is given the camera to record everyone's goodbye wishes to Rob. Suddenly, in the middle of the party, stuff starts happening several blocks away. Explosions, blackouts, screaming, destruction...and then the movie kicks into high gear and stays in it for the last hour. Hud hangs on to the camera as Rob, his brother, his brother's girlfriend, and an acquaintance from the party named Marlena all try to survive a monster attack they don't understand and can't seem to avoid.

And that's all I'm gonna say about that, in case (like me) you haven't seen it yet.

Okay, actually, I'm going to say a lot more, but I'm "red-texting" it, for those of you who don't want to be spoiled, so FEAR THE RED TEXT!!!!

Why It Was Great: Let me count the many, many ways.

1) The whole "shaky-cam" thing didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, so unless you're really susceptible to that, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. (If it is, I'd bet watching it at home would be a little easier on the stomach.) Plus, if you watch any amateur vacation videos you've seen that sort of thing before. On the plus-side, it gave the movie a sense of reality that the omniscient "god-cam" wouldn't. I actually felt the tension of each scene.

2) Hud was a great cameraman/narrator. I laughed several times throughout the movie at the throwaway comments that Hud would make, because I could see myself saying some of the same things...if I was a dopey fratboy, anyway. But it made him a more sympathetic character.

3) The characterization and especially the dialogue were realistic-sounding. I've heard some argue that this is bad; that the dialogue of movies should sound smarter than actual people talk (see: "Juno"). I can see that point of view, but what we're watching isn't as "staged" as regular movies. It was like watching homemade videos of horrific events. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the dialogue was improvised, instead of scripted, because it sounded a lot like people talk. And guess what? People aren't necessarily eloquent when in stressful situations. There was no stirring "hero speech" here. Just a lot of panicking, screaming, and struggling to grasp what was going on.

4) The subway tunnel attack freaked me out. Seriously.

5) Marlena frigging exploded. Holy cow.

6) The monster itself was unexpectedly unique. Especially structurally. And bravo on the film crew for keeping the monster design secret. And the little bug things were a great touch that really ratcheted up the tension. As a coworker said (Hi Sara), the big monster wasn't as bad because you could hear it coming. It was the little ones that really freak you out.

7) Even though I knew that something bad had happened, since the footage was "found" at Central Park, it still didn't stop the dread in the pit of my stomach near the end of the movie.

8) The auto-focus issues when Hud died. Perfect touch.

9) No music throughout the entire movie, except during the party scene. I love soundtracks, but having one here would have taken you totally out of the film.

10) Everyone dies. Call me cynical, but that never seems to happen. (Okay, except in "The Host." They all died from the chemical weapon in that one, didn't they, Will?) But it was a more logical and effective ending.

11) The whole complaint about evoking 9/11 imagery is understandable, but still overblown. New York was getting attacked in movies long before the terrorists figured out how to do it. However, as a person who only experienced the horror of that day via TV, I guess I'm not the best person to ask, because I didn't find it as "offensive" as some did. In many ways, it actually helped me better understand the panic and confusion that folks felt on that day.

12) I loved the party scene, and the fact that, though you never see Hud for most of it, you still "get" that he's got a crush on Marlena. I connected with that really well.

13) The military didn't create the monster, and they were portrayed in a generally positive light. I appreciate that.

14) The movie didn't overstay its welcome. It was a tight 84 minutes or so. No more was needed.

That's all for now.

I don't know if I really proved my case there. But as far as gut reactions to the film, I had a great time, it met all of my expectations, and probably exceeded them in a few ways.

PBB recommends this movie. It was a great monster movie, as long as you're not expecting deep characterization, probing themes, or social subtext. In other words, as long as you let it "just be" a monster movie. Just sit toward the back, and go easy on the pre-show snacks.

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