2008. Matt Reeves
Friday 1/18, 8pm, Grauman’s Chinese Theater
Cloverfield arrived in theaters yesterday billed as a fresh take on the classic Hollywood monster movie and due to some excellent and effective marketing, it almost had me convinced that it was. I should first congratulate Paramount on getting this thing into cinemas without an image of the monster leaking on to the internet (at least not to my knowledge). Not knowing what I was gonna be dealing with was one of the real joys of watching the film, along with the sold out crowd at the Chinese, who clapped at every trailer (even 10,000 B.C.!). But does the film actually have anything to offer from other Hollywood monster movies? Not really.
Let’s try to focus on the positive though. The element of surprise is key and I will give the filmmakers credit for never giving us any information about what the thing is or where it comes from. They stick to their limited perspective gimmick and while it sometimes holds them back from delivering some real goods, for the most part it works well. The approach of the movie is good and interesting but the execution is pretty flacid. Structurally and thematically, the film is the same as any creature feature I’ve seen and the only thing that could have separated it from the pack was the aforementioned limited perspective and the relationships between the main characters. Sadly, the characters are paper thin (granted, too much in the opposite direction and they would have been too stereotypical, aka “the hot-headed jock” etc.) and the relationships are stupid. It would be one thing if the film went totally against even the idea of characters, but they don’t. They clearly spend the first twenty minutes trying to get us acquainted with these people and getting us to care. But these scenes are like a bad episode of “The Hills” and I never bought a second of it. And then the major story we’re supposed to be set up for is more or less the crappy subplot to every disaster movie where two characters who used to be really close have grown apart but reconcile due to the enormity of the danger. Yawn.
Whoops, I was trying to stick to the positive. The camera direction is fantastic and some of the shots are truly beautiful. Also, there are some scenes of real tension building and suspense that could be studied in film courses, particularly the one in the subway tunnels. And I spent a good bit of the last reel wondering how they were gonna end this thing in a satisfying way and was pleasantly surprised that they did. But I’m talking only about the last few shots and not the completely implausible five to ten minutes that preceed it. And about that tension, it is quickly squashed any time the actual monster is on camera. The design of it is fine, I guess, but the CGI is just wretched and though we don’t see it very often, whenever we do the film’s small budget becomes abundantly clear. It’s a shame because all the other effects are phenomenal. The destruction of New York City is totally convincing and some of the sets are pretty jaw-dropping.
At the end of the day, I can’t find much in Cloverfield to separate it from something like Godzilla. It’s Hollywood trying to disguise itself as something else, but if you give it just five seconds of thought afterwards, you can still see the feet poking out from under the bushes.