Cloverfield turns out overexposed, underdeveloped
It seems like only yesterday I was watching online videos of the Statue of Liberty losing her head with wide-eyed bewilderment, excited and confused. Alas, now that Cloverfield has arrived, my wonder for J.J. Abrams’ monster/survival movie has been replaced with indifference and irritation.
Cloverfield (which is both an inexplicable and stupid name for this film) follows a group of friends whose going away party is ruined when a giant monster of unknown origin decides to crawl onto the shores of Manhattan and wreck everyone’s day. Initial buzz about this movie, besides the decapitating of Lady Liberty (possible social commentary? OMGZ!), was the single-hand camera that was used to shoot the whole film.
The goal of this technique was, I suppose, to give the movie a much more authentic feel. Instead of watching a flick about a monster, the audience is watching the chronicling of people trying to survive and escape in the face of utter chaos. To an extent, this works. However, by the third time things get blurry and cluttered, your head will be spinning so fast you’ll wish for actual production before you can say, “Blair Witch.”
While the idea of putting the viewer in the eyes of those trying to survive sounds novel, it is ultimately unfulfilling. Because there is never any interaction or explanation as to how things came about, what we are left with is a movie full of people just running around like blind mice. Some may argue that the the film’s point is to provide reactions to danger, instead of, you know, explanations for the plot. But who wants to watch a movie about people who panic? What fun can a monster movie be if the audience never learns anything about the monster? Hell, how can it be a monster movie if there is no interaction with the actual monster?
You’re probably saying to yourself, “But Nate, you ignorant boob, it isn’t a monster movie at all. It’s a survival movie!” Sure, the movie is about people trying to survive, but for a survival film to work there has to be some level of concern for the characters which is driven by plot and character development. While destruction and chaos are all over this movie, those two other elements are achingly absent.
Watching Cloverfield, one can get the sense that Abrams came up with the idea of a shaky hand-cam movie involving some badass monster long before the idea of “characters” or “story” came into the picture, and just filled in the blanks to make the production deadlines.
Still, the movie isn’t a total wash. There are at least two extremely tense moments that caused me to sit up and pay attention, and there is some genuinely funny comic relief from one of the characters, delivered with the kind of unthinking brashness that any panicked person might have. Cloverfield intends to create tension by putting the viewer in the mind of the tense, but without context to drive the story, all the viewer will get is a headache.
In the end, what this movie really suffers from is “Snakes on a Plane Syndrome.” Like Snakes, Cloverfield is a film that could never live up to its incredibly creative viral marketing campaign. But with the buzz around this movie, it’s going to make about $70 gazillion anyway, which is both a boon to the advertising industry and a blow for films.
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