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1/18/08

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I was pretty jazzed by the original teaser for Cloverfield. It looked like a well done mix of Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project, which intrigued me. Plus the fact that J.J. Abrams was producing it; pretty much everything he touches these days, is at the very least entertaining. The film got pretty hyped in the days leading up to it, I was hoping that we didn't have another Snakes on the Plane situation on our hands, where the hype far outweighed the quality of the film.


I'm good at discerning the quality of a film from the trailer, so I had much more confidence in Cloverfield, than I ever did in Snakes. Enough so, that I made the rare trip out for an opening night. It seemed like the rare movie that would be better with a big and excited audience; I usually don't like to be around a bunch of teenagers talking through a film. But it proved useful afterwards as well, because while I loved the movie, I heard a lot of people complaining about it. So it gave me an immediate sense of how the film would split its audience.


Most of the complaints seemed to be about the downer of an ending and the non-explanation for the monster. Which I was thought was the right choice, they leave enough clues within the film for you to come up with your own good theory. If the film stopped to take the time to spell out exactly what was going on, it would have taken you out of the excitement, and ultimately it would have closed all the discussions that followed.


I love that the entire film takes place from one video camera (even if it has the longest running camera battery in history), the film cuts by having those carrying the camera turn it off. There was only one scene, where I thought this didn't work. They even cleverly add to the story by having the monster footage cut out every once and a while, to a great day between the main guy and his girlfriend, which is been recorded over, and even gives it a bit of a happy ending. Cloverfield is the military code-name for the tape found abandoned in former Central Park, so we're apparently watching it along with some General somewhere.


The film starts at a going away party for Rob, who is leaving New York for Japan the next day. Things go awry when there is a large explosion on the other side of the island. Those at the party move out on to the street, where things have started to go bat-shit. The characters make their way out of the city, when the Brooklyn bridge is knocked down while they're starting across it, an incredible sequence. Rob gets a call from his girlfriend, who has been trapped in her apartment; he and his small group decide to go save her, which gives them a good excuse to stay in the city. Things get much worse from there, they continue to run into the monster and the military which is losing the battle.


Everything is seen only from the one camera's point-of-view, which is passed between the group, it gives the film a limited scope, but it also manages to make you believe in this giant monster attacking New York story. There are only a couple of money shots of the monster, mostly you hear the destruction or see it from afar. There are also a large number of smaller monsters that seem to be dropping off the large one, which then chase people down, there's a particularly good scene involving them chasing the characters through a dark subway tube, lit only by the camera light.

Cloverfield is a great concept for a generation obsessed with YouTube, where everyone seems to have a camera recording every moment of their life. The film takes that concept into blockbuster territory, with big ideas and top-notch special effects. The film is far better than the crappy remake of Godzilla and Peter Jackson's bloated version of King Kong, which might just make it the best American giant monster movie, since the original King Kong. While it originally split audiences, I think the film is slightly before it's time, and that it will go down as a genre classic.


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