Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cloverfield

Knowing Cloverfield was going to play to a packed theater (at least during the opening weekend, I say with a sly wink) I bought my ticket a little early, and grabbed a seat as close to the middle as I could. Several times during the commercials for local business and before the movie ended, I measured up the audience.

I seemed to fit right in.

J.J. Abrams, the producer/director/writer du jour, seems to have a fairly specific and heavily devoted audience. Geeks sat on the edge of their seats during the commercial for the upcoming new season of Lost, shushing audience members who were talking, in case Abrams provided any new clues about Jack, Sawyer and Kate. (He didn't.) Socially insecure teens watched with their coats and toboggans on, as if taking off the protective clothing would create more discomfort than leaving them on and being hot. And socially awkward adults anticipated a film filled with common Abrams themes: a healthy suspicion of the government; a story-within-the-story plot line, where what's happening on-screen is in reaction to the bigger (but not always evident) picture; and the knowledge that what you are seeing on screen isn't always what it seems.

I'll let you decide the group(s) with which I associate myself. (Here's a hint: it's more than one.) But sadly, not every group got what it was expecting.

The Losties were given no clues about how Jack and his fellow castaways will fare this season on the show.

The insecure teens struggled through the 74 minute film in a packed theater that was several degrees too warm.

And geeky adults watched a movie that was far less entertaining than they expected and hoped.

The first 15 minutes of Cloverfield sets up the relationships of the characters, particularly the relationship between lead Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and his former-best-friend-turned-lover. Told through scenes from a camcorder, the film moves from sweet and funny home movies to scenes that document the destruction of New York City.

By what? The audience isn't sure, and Abrams never tells us. Because it's irrelevant to the movie. Just like Lost is less about what caused the accident that lead to the castaways being on the island and more about how they experience that trauma, Cloverfield isn't about the monster that's destroying the city. It's about the human reaction to that destruction.

The flick coulda used a bit more fear factor.The monster--nearly irrelevant enough to be tagged a MacGuffin--is as much a mystery at the movie's conclusion as it was at the start.

The visual aspect of the story telling is interesting. Without "The Blaire Witch Project" pioneering the hand-held camera perspective, Cloverfield would be ingenious. Several years after Witch, the technique isn't that remarkable. There is a tremendous amount of information given to the audience in short segments via the camcorder perspective, but it still delivers less than desired.

Overall, I was disappointed with Cloverfield. And the majority of the audience seemed to be, too. I sorta expect dollars to drop off quickly.

8 comments:

primalscreamx said...

I'm kinda sorry to hear that. I was a big fan of the Godzilla films (Godzilla versus the Smog Monster rawks!). I was kind of hoping this was going to be something like some of the stuff Night Shyamalan did.
The idea of focusing on a tiny segment of a larger picture -in "Signs" one family dealing with an alien invasion, in "The Sixth Sense," the afterlife of one man, in "Unbreakable" -taking apart the superhero genre down to its core -it appealed to me for a giant monster pic.
I'm still going to see it, but I guess I'll ratchet down my expectations.
Bummer.I haven't been freaked out by a horror movie since "The Ring." I was hoping.

The Film Geek said...

I was really eager to see it too, for similar reasons.

I dunno...I'd kinda like to hear what you think after you see it. Really, I may have expected too much. I did like the idea of focusing the story away from the monster, on the humans who were trying to survive. You mention Godzilla, though: that monster kicked ass in many ways because he had a bit of a personality, you got to know him from the stories. I thought Cloverfield needed the same.

Steve Adams said...

I just hope he doesn't f*!k up Star Trek.

jedijawa said...

I was wanting to go see this. Maybe I'll wait.

The Film Geek said...

Oh, hell, don't take my word for it. It's setting all kinds of box office records. And, my wife saw it while she was out of town this weekend, and she loved it.

It's probably just me...

Ian C. said...

What I liked the most was we got a regular person, first-hand view of the carnage the monster was causing, rather than a "military vs. monster" spectacle.

I just didn't like the people we were following throughout the story.

And I apologize for the plug, but I posted some thoughts on 'Cloverfield,' too.

The Film Geek said...

I'm with you on the not liking the characters. When one of them bit the dust, I rememeber thinking: "It's about damn time."

You're welcome to plug anything here at any time, Ian. And your 4 sentence review of Cloverfield is terrific.

jedijawa said...

Saw it ... and linked to your review.