Cloverfield (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Matt Reeves
viewed: 01/22/08 at Century San Francisco Centre, SF, CA

From producer J.J. Abrams, of television’s Lost fame, we have a Godzilla-esque monster movie, shot in the same technique as The Blair Witch Project (1999), i.e., hand-held camera, as indigenous to the diegesis.  What worked for Blair Witch, doesn’t work nearly as well here.  Of course, Blair Witch relied on total no budget, smaller scale scares, with virtually no special effects.  Abrams approach is based, from what I’ve read, on the modern cell phone camera phenomenon in which people essentially carry with them at all times the basic media of recording action/events on the fly.  Of course, it would be one thing to make a movie that was all recorded on a cell phone…but the pretense of this gang of well-off 20-somethings, running and screaming around New York City while all goes to hell, yet managing to keep the camera on key moments…it’s a hard nut to swallow.

The film is one, like Blair Witch and Snakes on a Plane (2006) before it, that is almost more about the amount of pre-movie hype that can be created for a film.  Initially, trailers were shot before principal filmming, and the name, Cloverfield, which is one of the stupidest movie titles for an action/monster movie film ever, was supposedly its “code name” in this era of developing hype through secrecy, trying to keep images and snippets from hitting the internet before the film is finished.  It’s probably a more timely thing, in that it’s a commentary on the way that films are marketed, produced, and their temporary appeal basis in little attributes like these.

Also, from what I’ve read, on top of the cell phone camera culture (prevelent in the many shots of onlookers holding their cell phones to the sky to either snap a pic or get a signal amidst buildings falling down around their ears), the film also is an attempt to play off of the destruction of New York a la 9/11 or out of post 9/11 fears.  I guess you see this briefly with the people cowering in buildings to miss the plumes of ash and dust that shower down and explode as huge buildings collapse, as well in the images of the folks who are covered in that soot.  I imagine that this sort of attempt to play off of (cheaply or sincerely) these images and fears will happen for long time to come.  But, as I noted in Steven Spielberg’s much more interesting War of the Worlds (2005), this approach was already being used, to far greater and broader effect.

All I guess that I am saying here is that from a perspective of what this film adds to the genre of the “big monster attacks big city” is not a whole lot.  The image of the statue of liberty’s head smashing into the street is the film at its best.  Its signiture shot, though again, not wholly original.  Icons are targets in disaster films.  The statue of liberty was better used in the original Planet of the Apes (1968).  Didn’t that just about truly hit the mark?

Overall, it’s an entertaining enough ride, but I really think its primary conceit, that the film is left over from the hand-held, user-created content from people no longer alive (found in the place “formerly known as Central Park” — what is this Prince Land now?)  That just plain didn’t work for me.

And while there are a lot of people who will be confounded to know that the explanation of the monster’s origin are only guessed at and never delivered, I have to say that I am more cool with that conceit.  Explaining it might make for some ridiculous science.

But the name.  What a lame-ass name for a movie.

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