Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cloverfield Rocks The House

I was lucky enough to catch last night's Cloverfield sneak peek, and I'm here to tell you. Dude, this movie rocks the fuckin' house!

I don't want to give too much away, so I'll avoid plot points and spoilers. I just wanted to post my initial reaction on this blog and sing the praises of JJ Abrams, Matt Reeves, Drew Goddard, and the entire creative team behind this great modern American monster movie.


Anyone who's interested in this film probably already knows that the entire movie is shot through a cam-corder, ala Blair Witch Project. My friends and I were fortunate enough to get seats all the way in the back of the theater, because this effect gets a little hard to watch after a while. (There was much running and dropping of the cam-corder, and lots of swirling chaos to endure.) I was fine, but my seasick-prone friend wisely dropped a tab of Dramamine before the lights went down.

Now about the decision to use a cam-corder. In making this one small, novel choice about how to shoot a monster-in-metropolis movie, the makers of Cloverfield did away with two staples of modern action/horror that usually make films like this unwatchable -- music score and editing. There was editing done to be sure, excellent editing, but it was to cleverly couch the film in its unfamiliar surroundings of a dude's cam-corder, later captured and categorized by the Department of Defense. I guess what I mean is that there wasn't any perspective editing, and this is a good thing.

This film wouldn't have worked at all had it been run through the regular Hollywood machines. The scenes would have appeared boring, listless, disconnected, and devoid of much plot. But the reason it works here is that the audience (thankfully) isn't dictated to for one second. The camera doesn't hang on to character A long enough to register he's feeling remorse or flip back and forth between characters B and C during a confrontation to register the emotional tension is building. We're not told how we should feel, period. We're thrust into the moment, and we have to make up our own minds as we go. The overall effect is breathtakingly real. I think this is the only high budget movie I've seen that is bold enough to do away with such industry-standard bread and butter, and we are the luckier for it.
You really are trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with seven hundred other people.

The only objection I had was personal. In the first hour we see what it looks like from down the street as the Empire State building collapses. The viewers, along with the principle characters, rush inside a convenience store and watch the rumbling ashes roll past the storefront. When they (and you) emerge, there are coughing New Yorkers walking around in a daze, and everything is covered in dust. Not a comfortable moment to live through, despite the fact that the scene was beautifully executed and breathtakingly realistic. If I had been a 9/11 survivor, I'm not sure I wouldn't have walked out at that point.

Make no mistake, this is a Godzilla movie. (The first 20 minutes of the film revolves around a Generation Y VP who's attending a going-away party before he leaves for... wait for it... Japan.) There are other deadly creepy-crawlers that the beast seems to bring with him, there is much blood and mayhem, and there is quite a bit of damage done to Midtown Manhattan. There is a wonderful sequence that involves the principle characters (and you) negotiating the rooftops of halfway collapsed high rise apartment buildings sixty stories up as fighter jets roar overhead. The acting is passable, the writing is clever and sparse, and the special effects are nothing short of amazing.

This is the ultimate reality TV monster movie.

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