I salute J.J. Abrams. He gave his all to the task of taking every monster movie cliche imaginable and re-packaging them so as to make them no longer seem quite so hoary and lame. He didn't succeed, but he deserves kudos for the effort. In a world of cynical lazy-asses, J.J. at least gives a damn.
In case you haven't heard, Cloverfield is a giant new movie about a monster terrorizing New York. And no, the monster is not Harvey Fierstein or the risen corpse of Leona Helmsley - those movies would've been too scary to even be released. This monster is big and icky and may have come from the sea or perhaps space. Or it may have crawled out of Ed Koch's butt. That's never really answered. The important thing is that it's gigantic and it likes knocking over buildings. It's like the world's angriest architectural snob. "Monster can't stand Chicago School. Must smash!" It also defiles the Statue of Liberty by biting its head off and spitting it into a skyscraper. That's not nearly as horrid a desecration as what happened to the statue in Ghostbusters II. Or just the fact of it being in Ghostbusters II.
The movie has not been shot like a typical Roland Emmerich-style disaster epic - thank God. J.J. Abrams has tried to break new ground with his technique, so the whole movie is shot from the point-of-view of a single guy with a digital camera.
All right, so it's only ground-breaking if you forget about The Blair Witch Project. Which I'm very happy to do. Because it sucked. And I still have nightmares about that one actress with the runny nose. What ever happened to her? If you live in Hoboken and go to a lot of dinner theater, look around for her for us. Thanks.
Back to Cloverfield...this shaky-cam technique makes everything very crazy and first-person. I personally liked it. Of course, the conceit is a somewhat difficult one to maintain. At first the action is all in this party full of yuppies who are saying goodbye to one dude who's moving to Japan (the joke being that monsters usually attack Japan...but not this time bitch). The cameraman is some dopey guy who's supposed to be taping farewell messages but he's more interested in some chick who sort of looks like Milla Jovovich. Anyway, it's easy to roll with the idea that this guy is filming random stuff and just gets too immersed in his work, which is why he spends the whole night obnoxiously following people around. It gets somewhat harder to swallow, however, after the monster strikes. Dude, it's like, drop the camera and run! No...he needs to film the carnage, for posterity. Okay, it's a stretch, but I can dig it.
Everyone ends up fleeing the party, and Abrams conveniently whittles the number of protagonists down to four. Soon they're all in a subway tunnel and of course the camera conveniently has night-vision. Then these little mini-monsters attack from the ceiling...yeah there are mini-monsters. They're basically little blurs of lashing arms. Of course the dude with the camera never stops filming, even when his friends are being attacked. Cause there'd be no movie.
Here's how the hoary cliches work themselves in. "You know, any sensible person would just flee the city as fast as possible, but I've got to be a hero and go save the girl I love who's trapped in a building the monster has attacked. And my faithful buddy with the camera is going to follow me because...because...we're buds for life and that's what buds too. And also my dead brother's girlfriend will come along and the random Milla-looking chick because...um...help me out here..."
Abrams stretches credulity in finding excuses for the characters to keep going toward danger instead of away. Which is pretty much how all these movies work. And I'm sure Abrams realized how clunky his underlying mechanism was...but he didn't care. He counted on the sheer physical experience of the film carrying the viewer through. It does. The first moments when the monster attacks are gripping, with their shamelessly inappropriate echoes of 9/11 (Spielberg did the same thing in War of the Worlds, so that makes it all right I guess), and though the movie loses a lot of its initial momentum it remains compelling throughout.
And no, I did not get sick from the shaky-cam. Didn't even get queasy. Some people have weak stomachs. I don't know what would happen if you sat next to a really smelly person though and were a little sick to begin with. Like some beer-belching asshole, the kind who giggles every time someone dies. I wish the Cloverfield monster would go to those people's houses and eat them. Then, I want it to go to Paris and devour the Centre Pompidou. Cause it's ugly and stupid.
I basically want to be friends with the Cloverfield monster. I think he may just be misunderstood. Is it a he? It gives birth to the mini-monsters so it must be a she. Unless Cloverfields are both. Or neither. Damn, Fred Phelps is so going to condemn the Cloverfields. "Down to hell with you evil statue-chomping thing from the depths of the sea or perhaps space." Call in an air-strike on Fred Phelps! Okay I'm rambling.
Cloverfield gets 3 Chips Ahoy out of 4. It's rated PG13 for rampant yuppie obnoxiousness, scary whip-arm things attacking people and the wanton destruction of national monuments.
Saturday, January 26, 2008