Author: Henry Meier & Anthony Ostland
THE MOVIE: Cloverfield
DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves
WRITERS: Drew Goddard
STARRING: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel
DURATION:1 hr. 24 min.
Finally, a monster movie we can call our own. Director Matt Reeves and creator/producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) have resurrected the giant monster genre with their depiction of an attack on lower Manhattan in the film Cloverfield.
In 1954, the Japanese Toho Studios made the first Gojira/Godzilla film. This was effectively a terrifying monster in large part because we saw the monster not from its level, but from that of the people below. Introducing Godzilla to the cinema industry through the lens of the human eye was brilliantly executed, instilling fear in the audience because of the level of realism represented in the film. Although Toho Studios continued to make giant monster movies, they drifted away from the extreme immediacy created by viewing the monster at ground level and instead focused on filming from the monster’s own vantage point. They might follow individual characters but they are typically newspaper reporters with comic sidekicks. As monster films continued to be released over the years (limited as they were), we witnessed the near death of intimacy between the viewer and the attack. Storylines seemed to follow the monster, creating a structure within the genre that consistently aimed to follow its predecessor: a gigantic monster attacks a major city, knocking down skyscrapers, crushing autos and occupants underfoot, batting away all human efforts to halt its march of destruction as if it were swatting flies.
We all know the genre; we’ve all seen that movie.
Cloverfield has restored the classic perspective of the giant monster film while introducing an unmarked style of its own – cramming so much innovation into its brief, visceral attack that it leaves the viewer reeling, remembering and reaching for details.
The chief difference with Cloverfield is that the people in this movie are not trying to destroy the monster or explain its existence; they’re just trying to stay out of the monster’s way while they set out to rescue a friend. There are no generals barking orders, no scientists expounding theories, no hotshot heroes blasting away at the monster. Instead, the story follows a small group of twenty-somethings trying to make it across Manhattan alive.
The idea for this film came from Abrams, who conceived of the new monster after he and his son visited a toy store in Japan. At this year’s Comic Con Paramount Panel, Abrams explained, “We saw all these Godzilla toys, and I thought, we need our own [American] monster, and not King Kong, King Kong’s adorable. I wanted something that was just insane and intense.”
The movie begins with a surprise farewell bash for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) as he prepares to leave for a job in Japan (a salute to the awe inspiring Godzilla perhaps?). Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) has been put in charge of videotaping the event, and the entire film is Hud’s shaky video camcorder record of the attack and the friends’ subsequent voyage.
The first 20 minutes are just the party, complete with an uncomfortable confrontation between Rob and his sort-of girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman), who leaves. Rob is then consoled by his younger brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) while Hud tries to clumsily hit on Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). All this takes place at a normally boozy, chaotic party pace. But then, all of a sudden, the building is rocked by an earthquake.
Or so it seems. As the group evacuates the building, debris starts flying through the air, crushing cars, crumbling buildings and killing people. When the friends hit the street, they get a glimpse of a towering, indistinct monstrosity smashing its way through town.
The film does a fantastic job interjecting laughs between the action-packed scenes of Manhattan being smashed to bits. Hud, the quasi-narrator of the film, often diffuses tense situations with his off-hand comments and awkward disposition. While this certainly isn’t the main focus of the movie, the comedic value of these little monologues certainly adds to the film and lends itself brilliantly to the monster movie genre. By not taking the situation too seriously, the director is able to make us suspend our disbelief in the situation and just sit back and enjoy the utter destruction visited upon New York City.
Cloverfield obviously won’t be for everyone. There’s a reason you don’t see many giant monster movies in theaters, and the hand-held camerawork will likely drive some crazy. But for sheer power of invention, mad momentum and geek bravado, it’s hard to beat.
Henry: I absolutely loved this movie. While it was by no means perfect, the sense of excitement and boyish joy it instilled in me more than made up for those imperfections. I came out of the movie theatre feeling like a 6th grader, exuberant and without a care in the world. Cloverfield is certainly entertaining and a fantastic addition to the monster movie genre.
Anthony: I thought this film was very entertaining. I was incredibly pleased to see a film that successfully introduced a new monster into the genre. Although it was only 73 minutes long, not counting the 12 minutes of credits at the end, it was a perfect length considering the style in which it was filmed, and the immediacy felt in the destruction of Manhattan.
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