Cloverfield


I’ve only ever walked out of a movie once. It wasn’t because I was offended at the content, or bored, or even because I felt the quality was so bad it wasn’t worth finishing[1]. No, the only time I ever walked out of a cinema viewing was when I saw The Doors. During a concert scene in which the camera was swooping in, up and around the audience, I felt saw nauseous that I had to get up and leave. I tend to have a similar problem with non-steadicam hand-held footage. I made it through Bob Roberts but it wasn’t pleasant.

So for this reason I waited until Cloverfield was on DVD so I could watch it on my not-so-large[2] TV. Even so I still had the problem. I made it about 13-and-a-half minutes in on the first attempt. But I wanted to see it, so today — having had no breakfast yet and armed with remote on pause-standby — I watched the whole thing. And yes it made me feel sick so this blog entry is about whether or not it was worth it.

Why did I want to see it? Well first it had pretty decent reviews. It is clearly a monster movie and whilst they’re not top of my list of favourite genres they are at least genre and I like that. A large part of it was that the writer was Drew Goddard – ex-Buffy writer who was responsible for some of my favourite episodes. I wanted to see if he’d done anything fun with the old monster-attacks-city trope.

Oh, and Kermode, in his favourable, but not quite glowing, review had said that anyone who knows movies should be able to predict the final shots of the movie. I wanted to see if I could, and I did.

Cloverfield is actually a pretty straight forward monster movie — out of the blue a monster attacks New York, whilst everyone else is fleeing Rob, our hero, and a few of his friends head straight into danger by trying to get to and rescue, his not-quite-girlfriend — she’s the one who got away, the one he should have said I Love You to but never did. They reach her but then they’ve got to get out of the city and not all of them make it out alive. So that’s a fairly out-of-the-box kind of plot, what Cloverfield does that’s different is use the idea of ‘found footage’, it’s all supposedly coming from a video camera that one of the friends happened to be using at the time of the attack. Hence the shaky-cam and my spinning head.

Actually in some ways it’s a pretty good device because it allows them to do that thing that Jaws did[3] which is to hardly ever show the monster and then only glimpses. The movie then becomes much more about the effects of the monster rather than, the special effects that made it. This also gives the movie a feel akin to The Zeppo that we’re watching a story (a guy trying to find the woman he loves before it’s too late) that’s the foreground to a much bigger story (monster eats New York). Not sure it works that well because it’s not trying for humour but it does work.

I’ll just say briefly that there’s a clear subtext here. Just like some 50s alien invasion movies were really about paranoia about communism and the original Japanese monster movies were about anxiety over new technology and things like nuclear testing, Cloverfield could be read to be about 9/11. Indeed one of the characters is heard to say early on “Do you think it’s another attack?” Certainly there are plenty of parallels — the monster appears apparently out of nowhere, no-one really knows why it’s attacking and even the military are unable it seems to stop it. That sense of being caught up in a disaster that you have no real idea how or why it’s happening, is quite familiar. Even some of the imagery is reminiscent of 9/11 news footage. I’m thinking of clouds of dust and debris rolling down streets toward the camera. I don’t really want to say anything more about that just nod to it on my way past.

So the big question is, was it worth it? Was it worth making myself ill for? Well possibly, but a lot of that is the smug feeling of guessing the final shot correctly. But I could have gotten that from the FF button. I think it does work well when it’s evoking a sense of “WTF?” about what’s happening. I think showing the monster in passing is good. I approve of putting the human story front and centre and relegating the CGI to it’s proper place. I’m just not sure I cared enough about the people. The camera-device that works well for the monster makes it harder to show the intimacy of the central relationship — or maybe that’s the acting I’m not sure.

Also it was a fairly downbeat ending, but par for the course for monster movies, so maybe my lack of outright love for this genre let me down. And of course, selfishly, I can’t help thinking that they could still have had essentially the same movie without the need of a camera style that sets off my motion sickness.

Probably worth it if you’re a monster movie nut – 6/10

[1]I’m talking about at the cinema, TV is a little different.

[2]23in – I love TV, I love movies, I don’t see the need for a massive screen.

[3]Although it did it largely out of necessity because of technical difficulties with the rubber shark as I understand it.

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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