Having been a fan of monster flicks for the past five decades or so I thought by this time I have seen every variation on a theme possible. Earlier this year a film came out that changed that point of view, ‘Cloverfield’. This film may not be to everyone’s taste but it is one of the most innovative monster movies to come along in decades. Over the years monster flicks have shown the action through the eyes of the scientists striving to find a way to defeat the creature at hand. The military frequently took center stage to demonstrate to the American people that our armed forces where there to protect us from any threat whether from across the sea or across the stars. In almost every one of these films there is always a scene where a crowd is desperately running from the monster. This point of view has been neglected for all these long years; until now. ‘Cloverfield’ is filmed entirely from the point of view of one of those panicking people fleeing for their very lives. This movie is one of the scariest that has come around in many years. Audiences have become so jaded with mediocre flicks that when one arrives that is truly different it is bound to bring on some degree of controversy. Many people objected to the shaky camera work while others, most likely expecting a formula monster epic, wanted more back story. Like it or not this film is ground breaking and deserves your consideration.
In most cases the producer of a film is behind the scenes and not fully credited with the finished product. It would be criminal not to recognize the producer here, J.J.Abrams. he started out his production career with a bang working on films like ‘Regarding Henry’ and ‘Forever Young’. His real claim to fame and source of his fame base has been on television where he was the creative mind behind such hits as ‘Felicity’, ‘Alias’ and a little show some out there may be aware of, ‘Lost’. ‘Cloverfield’ represents a triumphant return to cinema which will be continued with his up coming resurrection of the original Star Trek film. Abrams is the kind of producer who enjoys thinking out of the box. It would appear that he looks at the norms of the genre he is tackling and twists them to his own desires. The film was written by Drew Goddard who is making his debut in feature films here. He has worked with Abrams on both ‘Alias’ and ‘Lost’ so the man has considerable experience in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. His story here is genius in its simplicity. A group of twenty-somethings are having a good bye party for one of their little group when something monstrous attacks New York City. Rather than lean on the plot devices of his predecessors Goddard personalizes the story by only letting the audience know facts that are available to the characters. This is taking the writing device of the first person present tense to the movies. When you think about it for a minute those hordes of Tokyo citizens running from Godzilla don’t know about the nuclear tests that woke him from his slumber and at that particular moment couldn’t care less. This is the foundation for this story and it works.
The film was directed by Matt Reeves. It should come as no surprise that a good portion of his resume was as writer, director and producer of the Abrams cut hit ‘Felicity’. Rather than using the standard camera setups or even a hand held steady cam for his photography he uses cameras and angles that emulate small digital video camera and cell phones. This brings the genre into the new millennium; the age of immediacy in video. If something like this did happen you can be sure that most of the video documentation would be made by the people in danger. There was a time when upon hearing of a news worthy even the news services would have to dispatch with great haste photographers and camera crews. Now almost every citizen has a digital camera on their person. This was the technology and social setting that this film requires and it makes the best use out of it. Reeves is not shy about showing the monster but the framework of the premise limits how much can be revealed. If something is knocking down bridges and ripping the head off the Statue of Liberty and is now chasing you the chances are you will not look back for a lengthy look. Reeves allots the audience just enough time to get to know the characters. They are people like we know; like ourselves. Much of the terror provided by this film derives from the identification the audience has with the characters. There should be a warning about the constantly jerky camera work. It will make even the strongest stomachs queasy. If you suffer from bouts of motion sickness either bring a bucket to watch it or avoid it altogether. The later would be a shame since this film is so worthwhile.
The film starts with a sound of an old projector. On the screen are warnings that what is recorded is the property of the Department of Defense regarding the ‘Cloverfield’ incident and retrieved from the area formerly known as Central Park. Someone holding a video camera is walking into a room. It is upscale with a large window overlooking Central Park. Next there are shots of a party starting up. Most of the recording is done by Hud (T. J. Miller) who is throwing his best friend Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) a good bye party. Rob is off to a new job in Japan and this is his last night in New York. Rob’s girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) who is not sure a long distance romance will work. Rob is upset because Beth brought another guy to his party. As Hud is trying to console Rob on the fire escape they hear a noise followed by the lights of the city going out and car alarms going off all over the place. The go back to the party and the lights come back on but everybody is screaming. Most are certain it is another terrorist attack on the city. Typical New Yorkers then turn on the NY-1 local cable station. The reports are sketchy with talk of an earthquake and a tanker capsizing near the Statue of Liberty. They all go to the roof to take a look when missile fire starts to rain down setting buildings on fire. The party guests take to the street in panic and are almost crushed when the head of Miss Liberty lands a few feet away.
Beth is separated in all the confusion and Rob goes off to find and rescue her. Hud tags along to help and manages to keep recording most of their journey. The only time you seen the monster is from the viewpoint of the camera, There are no shots external to the personal experience of the characters. For those worried about the queasy cam display you can get into pretty fast and accept it as what it is supposed to be; a first hand account of a disaster of monumental proportions. The sense of immediacy is what gives this film its unique edge, thrills and scares. You feel that you are in the middle of the action. This is in many ways an experimental film and as such it is a success. It is also certain that others will try to emulate this style but mist likely will not have the creativity of the cast and crew here.
Paramount went all out promoting this film for its theatrical release. There was a massive viral internet ad campaign, numerous television teasers and a theatrical trailer first shown during the long awaited ‘Trtansformers’ movie. Now the DVD is released and the marketing continues. The screener preview disc was sent in a large gray professional video tape box marked as an ‘Official Government File’ and ‘Cloverfield incident’. The video is grainy with uneven color by design. The audio is also much lower quality that we are used to; again to emulate a video camera. There are plenty of extras to keep you going long after the film is over.
This is a film that will become a landmark in the genre and is a must have for the Sci-Fi collector.