Posts Tagged ‘sci fi’

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CLOVERFIELD (2008)

June 24, 2008

Cloverfield Review


Matt:

Length: 95 min

Taglines:
Something has found us.

Précis: Energetic monster-mayhem in NYC, filmed through a first-person account.

Review by Matt:

One of the main characters in Cloverfield, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), is having a farewell party. It is being filmed on handycam by Rob’s friend, Hud (T J Miller). It is this “home movie” that we the audience are seeing. Pretty mundane. Rob is leaving Manhattan the next day for a new life in Japan. Unfortunately, before he goes, Japan comes to him … in the form of its favourite city-smashing giant lizard, Godzilla!  BOOM!!

Actually, the enraged creature that suddenly descends on the Big Apple is not exactly Godzilla (and in a remarkable display of copyright compliance no character ever utters the world “Godzilla”). But it could well be Godzilla’s cousin. In any case, it is just as good at pulverising a cities as the famous reptile . Naturally, it quickly scares Rob and his party out into the panicked streets.

Hud keeps his handycam running. The result is 90 minutes of shaky, first-person footage documenting a small posse’s attempts to find a lost friend and escape Manhattan, while chaotic monster-action goes down all around. Cloverfield’s style basically parallels the infamous Blair Witch Project. We only see the perspective of one person and one camera throughout the entire account. Doing away with the constructed, edited narrative of other monster movies makes Cloverfield a much tastier film. We’re as confused and uninformed as our cameraman. We’re only given glimpses of the invidious invader and of the army’s desperate attempts to contain it and evacuate the city. Some viewers might find it frustrating that we do not receive a complete picture, but I liked the fact that the horror is left to brood in our minds. There are scores of other “invaded city” stories if you want to go and see a plotted explanation. I was mostly on-board with the turbulent “oh my god what’s happening?!” style because I appreciated that within the framework it sets up (mysterious monster crushes city), the action in Cloverfield is fairly realistic.

What the film has going for it is that it has picked a simple story and style and just pumped it out in a tense and exciting ninety minutes. Explosions, monsters, deaths, panic. Repeat. It’s not groundbreakingly original but that doesn’t really matter. One influence that Cloverfield has obviously plucked from the zeitgeist is the 9/11 world trade centre tragedy. The visual parallels are striking, as Manhattan buildings collapse and dust spews through the streets engulfing the city’s shocked denizens. The film’s effects are done brilliantly and for the most part it really looks like the footage of a hapless victim stuck in the thick of it. I didn’t find the bumpy hand-held style annoying or nauseating (as some viewers apparently have). If anything, the camerawork was probably too steady and convenient, considering the amount of city-stomping monster-mayhem going on around these poor sods.

The film’s biggest problem is its characters. Often acting is only ever noticed if something is amiss. Here, it is noticeable. Cloverfield’s band of twenty-somethings seem incurably two-dimensional, even though the film gives us twenty minutes of “home movie” with them before the monster even comes a-knocking. Somehow our guides through devastated downtown don’t look like everyday people who’ve stumbled into a spontaneous documentary. They just look like actors whose attempts at appearing realistic are a bit hammy. So Cloverfield’s relationship/romance strands swirl away in the New York dust, along with our potential empathy. But at least you won’t feel too guilty if you cheer a bit for the monster.

In any case, the immersive sci-fi action is still ample for a good cinema experience. Cloverfield delivers an exciting monster film that is much better than your standard “city under threat” blockbuster. Provided you don’t demand a conventional narrative and you can take a bit of mystery, shaky camera and hammy characterization, Cloverfield is worth a look as an enjoyable piece of fluff-entertainment.

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