Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Cloverfield has many times been described as Godzilla meets The Blair Witch. Having seen the movie, I can attest that the description is spot on and, with few words, does a great job of conveying what it is like to watch it. Indeed, I have the feeling that a hundred independent viewers with no foreknowledge of the project would have each come up with the same phrase to describe it. The question remains, however, whether Cloverfield is a cheesy flop of a monster picture or if, more like The Blair Witch, it is a somewhat shallow but intense and thrilling ride for that demographic which appreciates this sort of thing.

The plot is simple and the story is short. A party is thrown for a young professional, Rob Hawkins played by Michael Stahl-David, about to move to Japan. He is falling in love with a girl, Beth McIntyre played by Odette Yustman, but has withdrawn of late because of the anticipated move. When she comes to the party with another man they have an argument and she leaves. Then the behemoth creature arrives and Rob, getting a voice mail from Beth in great distress, decides to cross town on foot, with the monster rampaging around, to try and save her. The entire story is told from the point of view of the same in situ camera.

I thought the movie a definite success, an intense roller coaster that leaves one exhilarated, dizzy and a touch nauseous. Like The Blair Witch, the camera is jumpy and, on the big screen, merciless. As much as the intent is to overwhelm the viewer, I think it might actually be more enjoyable on DVD, where the family room TV is less apt to provoke such queasiness. But when one can summon the will to look at the screen, the movie captivates.

The nighttime shots and the city sets make for a great atmosphere. There are no memorable characters, but the director and writer take enough time and care in introducing them, and evoke a pleasant mood with the party, so that we are well disposed towards them when they find themselves in peril. The situation becomes more engrossing in proportion as the bits of news filter down to the stunned people of Manhattan. Half the attraction of the film is the contrast of the mammoth proportions of the crisis and all its attendant effects recklessly spinning and interweaving about the island, most of them only implied, imagined or at most briefly glimpsed, with the smaller but omnipresent perspective of the main characters.

The movie is too short for a great number of adventures, but the few they experience along the way are gripping and increasingly extraordinary. Despite how fantastic the adventures become, they are at all times well founded in realism. The behavior of the characters is generally believable – no one, for instance, suddenly reveals unlikely prowess in battle – and the laws of physics are either obeyed or at least not broken to the extent that a moderately skeptical layman must become incredulous. This authenticity, in my opinion, gives the movie a certain integrity that many lack, and makes the adventures more compelling.

The movie does have its little faults, to be sure. Given the situation, Hud, the doofus who spends most of the time holding the camera, makes too many humorous remarks, remarks whose humor escapes his character but not the audience. There are times, after all, when even a doofus must sober up. The other actors, capable enough of portraying young urban professionals at a party, are at times taxed beyond their abilities by the more emotional sequences, but they miss convincing us by only a small amount. The decision of one of the military men ,in light of what occurred in New Orleans, is not authentic. But my complaints are small in number and light in impact.

One scene taken with another, it is a very good way to start 2008. I hope it’s not the best that cinema will offer us this year, but if once per month something of equal value comes to the silver screen I shall consider it a good year.

Final Grade: B+

1 comment:

Dead Pan said...

Another nicely written review. I dont know what it is, maybe for the Vantage Point review you just piled it on or something...