Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

Bad Robot, Paramount Pictures
Directed By: Matt Reeves

(This review may contain spoilers!)

I wasn't interested in this movie when I first saw the trailer for it (and I had been blissfully unaware of the viral marketing campaign that was apparently used to promote it); I'm not a big fan of monster/disaster movies, and the first-person-limited camcorder-style reminded me of the Blair Witch Project, which I found terrible and boring. So, I wasn't particularly looking forward to seeing it last night with Steve and most of the DLP brothers.

However, my (admittedly low) expectations were exceeded. Cloverfield makes much better use of the camcorder POV than Blair Witch. I didn't even experience any motion sickness (which is quite a feat for me), although some of the others I was with did.

The premise of the movie is that it's the recovered footage from a personal video camera found in New York's Central park following a monster attack. It begins with some footage from the "Best Day Ever", a day on the town by Rob (one of the protagonists) and his best friend/lover, Beth. However, the tape (ok, it's actually an SD card, but for the purposes of this review I'm calling it a tape) is then reused, and partially overwritten, to record the going away party for Rob, who's leaving for Japan. Because of this, the movie is interspersed with short scenes from this earlier day, which add a poignancy to the unfolding events of the monster attack.

This on-the-ground perspective gave a fresh twist to the "monster movie" theme for me (though I've read elsewhere that it's been done fairly frequently). The usual plot for a monster movie takes place from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, and although we have a narrator for the movie (Hud, who's operating the camera), he's annoying, unintelligent, and as clueless as we are. All these people are trying to do is to save themselves and those they care about, futile though that may be, and we're kept in suspense because we're thinking about what we would do in the same situation (and how we might not fare as well).

My favorite part of the movie is at the end, when Rob is addressing the camera to let anyone who might find it know who he is. It's somewhat subtle, but Rob mentions that it's 6:42am, which is exactly the time when he began recording the Best Day Ever, nearly a month before.

So, I enjoyed this movie. I was never frightened, but it was certainly tense. That being said, there are a few nitpicks I have to make.

1) There's no reason to see this in the movie theater. None at all. Unless, of course, you want to sit in the front and get motion sick. The special effects are relatively limited, and nothing that couldn't be enjoyed on a television.

2) The party scenes are WAY too long. The film is only a scant 84 minutes, and the party takes up 10-20 of those minutes without providing...

3) ...character development. There isn't any, to speak of. I couldn't care less when Marlena, Jason and Hud die. I was more excited to see the little space parasites (or whatever they are) than anything else.

4) Inaccuracies and unlikely behavior. Others have mentioned this, but apparently Liberty Island would NOT be visible from the Brooklyn Bridge. Beth's building stands at an unlikely angle. Everyone I went with found it hard to believe that Rob would continually risk himself to rescue her, even though it was likely she was already dead and he had already lost his brother, and that the others would be willing to tag along. (As Steve put it, "Honey, I love you, but if something like that ever happens to you, you're on your own!") Also, Hud sure held on to the camera for a long time (as long as he could, in fact); we'd have dropped it much sooner.

But these don't really take away from the film overall (with the exception of the party), so I still recommend seeing it - when it comes out on DVD.
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