Friday, February 1, 2008

"Cloverfield" - movie review

Like a whole lot of other people, my first exposure to "Cloverfield" was seeing the trailer in front of "Transformers", a trailer that didn't say much, something exploding in New York City, no title, just a release date. Definitely an intriguing trailer.

I began to hear more about the movie, but I could never get a handle on what exactly happens in New York. Is it a monster? Is it an alien attack? Is it just a plain ol' terrorist? Eventually, I found out that it was indeed a monster movie, inspired partly by J.J. Abrams' interest in Godzilla. And then I saw the longer trailer and started hearing more about the film, which was going to be from the point of view of people who experienced the events. It was going to be a hand-held camera, but not even just in the sense of Woody Allen a la "Shadows and Fog" during his "I'm going to ignore that God invented steadicams for a reason" phase. It was going to be more along the lines of "The Blair Witch Project", which I never saw both because of its subject matter as well as its home movie quality. Being severely prone to motion sickness, I don't do well with shaky cameras. I thought about whether or not to see "Cloverfield", but eventually, my curiosity about the film got the better of me as the release date approached.

Unlike Ralph Garman of KROQ, I'm not in the habit of reviewing movies I've not seen. Technically, I probably saw a grand total of about 10 - 15 minutes of the film. I spent most of the film just listening to it, looking at a spot to the right of the screen, enough that I could see with my peripheral vision but not enough to watch dead on. That was the compromise I had decided upon because of the shaky camera. I knew going in that I probably wasn't going to be able to watch very much of the movie. At times when there wasn't as much camera movement, I caught looks. At other times when I thought something major was going to happen, I would also steal looks. The shaky camera still made me feel quite nauseated and ill, even with as little of the footage as I saw.

Aside from my problems with the shaky camera, I did think it was an intriguing idea. You found out very little about what the monster was or why it was there because you never got an overall view. You only knew what a small group of people knew as you followed them during this disaster.

Oh, by the way, if you haven't seen this movie yet, then you're lame, and you should stop reading because spoilers galore lurk ahead.

The premise of the story is that it's a recovered video now in government possession. The main story is that there is a going away party being thrown for someone - Rob. Among the numerous people at the party are Rob's brother Jason, Jason's girlfriend Lily, and Rob's friend Hud, who is also the primary cameraman. We also meet Beth, a friend with whom Rob had a short relationship, and Marlena, who Hud has a crush on. The video is being made to document the party for Rob, so that he can take it with him and so partygoers can give their well wishes to Rob on camera. The initial drama centers around the now-awkward relationship between Rob and Beth, but a much bigger drama erupts, literally, when the building is rocked. The partygoers head up to the roof for a look, only to discover that part of Manhattan is on fire from explosions. As the drama develops, it's no longer about documenting a party to send off with Rob - it's about documenting a once-in-a-lifetime event as the group encounters more explosions and destruction and try to head to safety. We occasionally get glimpses of a creature among the tall buildings, but it's much like the shark in "Jaws" - we only get bits and pieces at first. The group are eventually heading to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge. Was I the only one who thought being on a bridge at a time like this was a bad idea? When the bridge starts to rock and crumble, Jason is killed. Already devastated by his brother's death, Rob is further rocked when he gets a voicemail message from Beth - who had left the party early after an argument with Rob. She is trapped in her apartment, pinned and unable to escape. Rob insists on going back to rescue her, and his group of friends decide to go with him. After having gotten caught in a massive firefight as armed forces are attacking the creature, the group goes underground, literally, and follows the subway system to get to where Beth's apartment is. Along the way, however, they encounter creatures that the monster has deposited, and Marlena gets the brunt of the attack. She gets ripped to shreds but curiously shows no sign of pain or discomfort. However, we find out later that she is not in fact fine, and the aftermath of her attack comes to a shocking conclusion.

The threesome eventually reach Beth, who has been impaled by some concrete, and it's a nice composition when the camera is set down so they can lift her off the rebar - which is all done without being seen on-screen, but you can still feel the pain of what Beth must be feeling. However, I was a little surprised that she was able to recover quickly enough to be able to run around New York after that.

The group race to get to the pre-appointed location where the last helicopter rescues will take place before all of Manhattan will be leveled, the only solution that would seem to work against the unstoppable monster. Lily manages to make it onto a helicopter but the door is closed behind her because the copter is full. There is an explosion in the air shortly thereafter, and there's some debate about whether or not it was Lily's copter that was shot down, so Lily's fate is a bit uncertain. Rob, Beth and Hud are put in another copter, and they lift off. This gives them (and us) the first overall view of the situation and monster. They see the monster winding around the tall buildings, and when the armed forces launch a devastating assault on the monster, it appears it has been killed. But in true horror movie fashion, the monster rises out of the debris and leaps at the copter, knocking it out of control and into a downward spiral. The copter crash lands in Central Park, with Rob, Lily and Hud all surviving. However, Hud is then confronted by the monster. I had been wondering whether we'd get a good look at it or whether it would just be blurry glances, which is why I had watched some of the more jarring footage. However, again like in "Jaws", the payoff comes and you get a good long look at the monster as Hud trains the camera on it, just before the monster attacks Hud. He eventually drops the camera, which lands on the ground, and Hud's lifeless body lands just behind it.

Rob comes back to say goodbye to his friend and to pick up the camera to continue the documenting. He and Beth take refuge under a bridge, and Rob makes a final speech into the camera. We then hear an explosion and the camera is covered and then it goes dark.

Throughout the course of the film, interspersed during the events of the night, is footage taken from about a month prior. During one of Rob and Beth's outings, they had captured their happy day on video, and the video for the party was taped over that, but some glitches appeared where parts of the underlying video broke through. After the camera goes dark, there is a final scene, from that happy day a month prior, which adds a bittersweet end to the story.

In general, I thought it was a very good film. The shaky camera problem isn't something that would affect everyone, but I think the film is worth seeing even if that's a concern. I was definitely engaged in the events of the story, and I thought the events were laid out nicely. I was seriously irritated when cameraman Hud was constantly yelling Rob's name, with Rob as the unanimously-appointed unspoken leader of the group. I *loved* that Rob was leaving to go to Japan, a nice nod to the film's Godzilla inspiration. I also really enjoyed the backstory of Rob and Beth's fun day interspersed with all the death and destruction. I've heard that some people were really confused by the juxtaposed footage, and the confusion makes zero sense to me. You would have had to not pay attention to several significant portions of the film not to have gotten that it was new footage recorded over a previously-used tape. Abrams also made a smart move in casting mostly unknowns in the film. Given the documentary nature of the film, having any kind of recognizable actor would have destroyed the illusion.

One thing that I have to mention: it's been 6 years since the terrible events of September 11, 2001. At times, it's still been hard to see some stories set in New York, which is now obviously missing the familiar outline of the World Trade Center on the New York skyline, but as time passes, it's gotten easier, enough so that I could watch this film without triggering back to all the footage I saw of the towers crumbling and the devastation, fear and grief etched on the faces of survivors. However, some of the footage from the film is so reminiscent of the real footage from 2001 that I would imagine anyone who actually lived through that horrible day might have a difficult time watching this film. I haven't seen any reports about that yet though.

For those who didn't sit through the entire credits (and if you didn't, why didn't you?), you know that at the very end, there is a voice that says two words, though I couldn't make out what the two words were. Apparently, it's supposed to be Rob, and he says, "help us", giving the impression that they survived. However, apparently, if you play it backwards, it then says "it's alive", giving the impression that the creature has survived. Much has also been made of the final scene of the movie. Eagle-eyed viewers have noted that around the time of Beth's line that it's the best day ever, you can see something splash into the water in the background, presumably the monster's arrival on earth.

I'm figuring that once we have the movie on DVD, I'll watch 10 or 20 minute segments, which is probably about as much as I can handle at one time of the shaky camera. The movie is fairly short, only about 85 minutes long in total, but that includes 12 minutes of credits at the end. I'm hoping that with the knowledge of a DVD release, they will have thought about the kinds of extras they could put on there. I would love if they had shot the film from wider angles as well, coverage shots, and if they had edited another movie out of using that footage. I'd love to see that.

After seeing the film, I discussed with a friend that the only way they could really make a sequel is by showing the same events of the night but from the perspective of other people. And then the next day, I found this tidbit. So we were apparently dead on given fact five.

We saw the film on opening night, and a lot of people saw the film opening weekend. The film grossed $40 from Friday through Sunday on its opening weekend (with an amazing per-screen average of over $11,500), $46 million if you count the four-day weekend because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. However, while interest ran high when the film opened, it seemed to decrease rapidly. On its second weekend, the film made $12 million, a whopping 68% drop, and ended up fourth on the weekend box office list, behind new openers "Meet the Spartans" and "Rambo" as well as "27 Dresses", which had opened the same day as "Cloverfield". Given the film's hefty opening, a significant drop on its second weekend was expected, but the drop was even more than customary for this type of film.

However, Paramount Pictures, the studio who released the film, apparently feels that audiences are open to seeing more, as Daily Variety has recently reported that they're in early talks with "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves to make a sequel to the film.

Hasbro is apparently counting on fans' interest in the film to last for quite some time. You can pre-order a high-end collectible of the monster from the film that Hasbro will be releasing in early October. I'm a little surprised that no picture of the collectible is available. Now that the film is out, it's no longer a mystery of what the monster looks like. The two interchangeable heads are apparently a non-threatening version and a "I'm going to eat you" version of the monster. I'm assuming that the parasites are the spider-like things that dropped from the monster, one of which attacked Marlena. The Statue of Liberty head accessory is pretty funny.


Fielding said...

Huh? Where's the hand-held camera in Shadows and Fog?

You imbecile.

Cindy said...

Hmmm, I wrote a 12-page dissertation on "Cloverfield", and you commented on one tiny non-"Cloverfield"-related bit. OK, it's possible I'm referencing the wrong Woody Allen film. That's the one I recall having a very difficult time watching, though I was amused because I could overhear the couple sitting behind me and the man was saying that he was getting really nauseated and he didn't know if he could watch any more without vomiting. But Woody Allen had a whole series of films like that, and I don't care enough to go back and watch them to find out if I'm referencing the right movie.

But I appreciate your insightful comment.

Most everyone gets one freebie. That's yours.