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.