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My Two Cents: Cloverfield


The viral marketing/hype machine has been in full force for Cloverfield, with the mystery surrounding the monster being central, even key, to generating interesting for this movie. Left to wonder about the monster, all sorts of questions come to mind: What does it look like? Where does it come from? Why is it attacking New York? How was it created? You know, all the usual sorts of questions surrounding a monster movie. If you go in expecting to find answers to these questions, you’ll leave disappointed. Cloverfield doesn’t answer these questions because it isn’t really a monster movie.

Why isn’t it a monster movie? Because it’s really a disaster movie, like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure or Meteor only without big name actors or an overbearing soundtrack. Just replace the burning building, capsized cruise ship or threatening asteroid with a rampaging monster. The stories all concern the fight for survival of the people involved. Because J.J. Abrams decided to focus the story on the 6 main character’s struggle to survive the onslaught, the monster is relegated to a ‘force of nature’ position. As a result, none of the questions that come to mind about the monster are ever answered, because, as a ‘natural’ disaster, you don’t need to answer them, the monster just is. This is similar to Independence Day, where Roland Emmerich treated the invading aliens as a ‘natural’ disaster as well, and avoided any of the messy questions about them. A bold choice for a ‘monster’ movie, and one that I respect Abrams for taking. It’s certainly a departure from the norm.

However, for this to work, the characters have to be interesting. Cloverfield also fails, mostly, in this regard. I found I didn’t really care about any of the main characters, who all seemed bland and uninteresting. None of them really had any kind of engaging personality or any that stood out about them. Except for Hud. Hud’s personality, as a slightly slow on the uptake goofball, really shines through, even though he spends most of the time behind the camera. Through voice alone, we learn to like Hud. But can’t carry the film alone, none of the other actors stand out in any way. Without a group of sympathetic leads, the movie felt flat.

Let’s talk about the camera .Yes, the entire movie is shot via a ‘home video recorder’, resulting in the (sometime very) shaky cam style. While this works well in building a claustrophobic, confusing and frenetic atmosphere, it become old quickly and devolves into being annoying. I didn’t experience the physical nausea that John did (probably from years of video games. See? They’re good for something!), but I did become very annoyed with sweeps and drops the camera took. I want to see the monster dammit, not someone’s leg, or part of their head and for Pete’s sake, hold the thing still! Of course, with all the shakiness, this allows the post-production people to be less rigorous with the SFX because the camera doesn’t stay still for very long. The effects there were, and there was quite a few, were pretty good, although they never really felt real, especially the exterior shots of burning buildings. YMMV with this.

The monster is unique and one you’ve never seen before. It has some unique ‘abilities’ that are cool and interesting, even if I was reminded of Starship Troopers and I applaud Abrams for coming up with an interesting monster, in stead of going with a Godzilla clone. Ironically, if he had used Godzilla or his clone, most people would be familiar enough with it’s backstory that none of the questions asked at the beginning of this post would need to be answered, thus freeing the story to concentrate on the characters without ignoring the monster. Sadly, Cloverfield generates these questions then doesn’t answer them. I also had a hard time believing the monster is as tough as it is, given how it looks. With a lack of any visible carapace or armor plating, I didn’t think it should be able to soak up the damage it does with nary any effect. (SPOILERS) Hell, it survives multiple bomb hits from a B2 Bomber, which, at that point, I would think would be dropping the 2000 lb. bombs. Not a scratch. Right. (End SPOILERS)

And the last really big problem I had was a lack of resolution. You think you know what happened at the end, but you’re not sure, because the film, well, ends because the camera stops recording. But if what we think happened really did happen, how did the camera survive? What finally happened to the people and city of New York. Again, the film hints at the answers but nothing definite.

And yet there were still some good things (see John’s review) here. Enough that I can’t say it was bad or mediocre, nor can I say that it was good. It was disappointing at best. I’m not sure I’d tell anyone to go see it. Certainly don’t pay full price for a ticket.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

13 Comments on My Two Cents: Cloverfield

  1. One of the things that really worked for me with this movie was that we were watching the rich kids – the children of privilege who’ve never had to sacrifice, who’ve never had to work – and how they react to a disaster. While I agree that with the exception of Hud, they weren’t developed well, but seeing Marlena and Lily make conscious decisions against their own self interest intrigued me. In a fantasy setting it was quite a “meet reality” experience for them and they behaved differently than other movies or movie makers have portrayed these same kinds of characters.

  2. That’s a good distinction JP: This is a disaster movie not a monster movie.

  3. It looks like the hype worked — this movie spawned two different reviews from this very blog!!

  4. Just curious: are you a fan of kaiju films in general? I’m a huge Godzilla/Gamera fan, and I loved this movie. It seems that most of the people who didn’t care Cloverfield are not fans of the subgenre, or at least are not overly familiar with it. I think it was totally in-genre, because monster movies *are* disaster movies. I saw it as being in conversation with other films in the subgenre, and my familiarity with the genre filled in the gaps that others saw in the film.

  5. From the reviews I’ve seen, this might work better as a rental: I’ll be able to deal better with the camcorder jitter on a small screen, and there doesn’t seem to be any plot to spoil! πŸ™‚

  6. Anonymous // January 19, 2008 at 4:50 pm //

    i saw this film last night,my friends and i left after 40 miunites,and we were not the first ones to leave,who wants to watch a shaky camera work ,i understand they wanted to make it true to life but this was to much,people were leaving becuase they were sick to there stomavhs and not becuase of the monster and its lice if you will.this movie was a big disapointment.

  7. Jeff, unfortunately, that statement is true for many of the movies that are coming out nowadays. I would even go further as to say that most movies today work better for cable viewing — i.e. there’s just nothing that must be seen opening week especially when everyone has their own home theater setups.

  8. After the setup twenty minutes, which I found really badly written and acted, I was ready to walk out. Good thing I didn’t. This thing had me hard on the edge of my seat the whole time. I saw it in a packed theatre of teenagers and the theatre was silent the entire time. Yeah, a few people booed when it ended, but those same people were dead silent until the last second. I thought it was surprisingly well done, and in spite of all the comments, doubt any of you could come up with a way to do this kind of thing any better. Except better writers at the character level, obviously. But scary, tense, and unpredictavle. And if they had answered any of those questions, whered it come from, how was it created, why is it attacking, the answers would have been as stu[id as they were in those old movies, and the film wuld have stopped being scary right there.

  9. “Just curious: are you a fan of kaiju films in general?”

    I’m not a huge fan, but I don’t consider myself a hater either. I’ll watch them if I catch one on TV, but I don’t actively seek them out. So I’m probably not the target audience? I see Cloverfield had a huge opening. It should be interesting to see how much audience drop-off there is next weekend, although it’s already made back it’s production costs.

    “[I] doubt any of you could come up with a way to do this kind of thing any better”

    Then again most of us here aren’t screenwriters are we? We aren’t even writers so this is just silly. It’s not our job to “do this kind of thing any better”.

    “Except better writers at the character level, obviously”

    Which is what I said, if you’re not going to focus on the monster and instead follow the characters, you ought to make them interesting. They really weren’t. You didn’t have a problem with that, I did. Different strokes and all that.

    “And if they had answered any of those questions…the answers would have been as stu[id [sic] as they were in those old movies, and the film wuld [sic] have stopped being scary right there.”

    When you’re entire hype machine/viral campaigned is centered around not showing the monster, in an effort to generate interest in and about the monster, they should have found some way to answer the questions that were generated. They didn’t, which was disappointing. So you think the same writers who had you on the edge of your seat wouldn’t be able to come up with decent answers? I think they could, and will for the sequel. I just wish they had found a way to frame the movie better and give us an answer or two.

    The better question is this: If there is a sequel, will we (John and myself) go see it?

    In the spirit of Cloverfield, I’m not going to answer that.


  10. So…the reason they called the movie “Cloverfield” is?

    NYC gets turned into a big patch of clover?


  11. jamison spencer // February 2, 2008 at 2:54 pm //

    what possible answer can there be for a giant sea monster that attacks new york that’s not stupid? whats scary is the fact that it just happens, it doesn’t make sense, you don’t understand it, or believe in it, but it’s happening anyway. that’s what cloverfield pulled off, and that’s what i responded to. cloverfield was not a sf movie. it was a horor movie. and, as a horror movie, it worked just fine. yes, the characters were badly written- they always are. it’s a horror movie. blair witch didnt answer anything either. In fact, almost no good horror movies ever do. think of how stupid all the classic horror movies get once they get far enough into to start thinking they have to explain things. why does jason keep coming back? What happened in Hannibal Lecter’s childhood to explain this? stupid. what’s scary is the unexplained.

  12. I think your all fucked in the head for leaving. The cameras didn’t even make me or any of the people i went with sick. In the end i thought it was an excellent movie, it leaves you with tons of questions un answered which i think was awesome! Im sick of movies having the same build up to an ending. I’m glad it leaves you asking questions, thats what movies should do. Oh and if you stayed till after the credits you’ll notice a message pop up that says “Still Alive” So there you go, i loved this movie!

  13. You know, if Cloverfield had ended and they had played the song “Still Alive“, it would have been a better ending.

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