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.