Written by: Austin Pearl, Special to CC2K
For another loving look at Cloverfield, CLICK HERE
Cloverfield is the latest take on the giant monster stomping around in a big city genre… and in this case, aside from the giant monster destroying the statue of liberty, the similarities between this film and its predecessors pretty much end there. What really differentiates Cloverfield is that it's told from the point of view of a group of everyday Manhattanites (not sure if you're aware, but the young yuppie replaced the stereotypical NY gangbangers, Irish cops, and Italian mob guys long ago), and is a tale of their survival amidst the sudden appearance of a giant monster wreaking havoc through the streets of Manhattan; vice a film about the slow but sure build up to a giant monster eventually doing the same thing. (Mild spoiler alert) This aspect gives Cloverfield a believability that could not otherwise exist in a giant monster film – as we never are given an explanation of what the hell that thing is or where the hell it came from, as we're merely seeing the events surrounding its appearance from what would likely be our own point of view if these events were real.
The movie starts with white text on a black screen that reads:
"MULTIPLE SIGHTINGS OF CASE DESIGNATE "CLOVERFIELD"
CAMERA RETRIEVED AT INCIDENT SITE U.S. 447
AREA FORMALLY KNOWN AS "CENTRAL PARK"
It soon becomes clear that everything we're seeing was previously recorded on a camcorder – so you're not actually seeing the events as they take place. The tape reveals the lives of best friends and recent lovers Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (played by Odette Yustman). In true home movie fashion, the tape then cuts to several weeks later, revealing a surprise party for Rob who is about to leave town for a new job in Japan. In addition to organizing the party, his good friend Lily (played by Jessica Lucas) decides the night should be documented using Rob's camcorder. The role of documenting the party falls upon Rob's good friend Hud (played by T.J. Miller). After spending 20 minutes or so introducing the main characters and taking the audience around the party, there's a sudden jolt, followed by a sudden explosion across town, and then full blown monster movie chaos. Upon reconciling to the fact there's a giant monster attacking the city, our group of young yuppies decide to make a break for the nearest exit – the Brooklyn Bridge. This scene captures well what makes Cloverfield feel so real. As they're being directed to walk across the bridge amongst the thousands of other new refugees, the monster approaches the base of the bridge. However, because the main characters are in the middle of a crowd of thousands – of which everyone is pushing each other to get a glimpse of this thing – they are unable to see it, and nor are we because the only footage we have is from a camcorder in one of their hands. Amidst the chaos on the bridge, Rob gets a phone call from Beth (she'd left the party early), and it's obvious she's not going to live unless he treks across town to save her. Rob and his band of young yuppies then embark on their gutsy journey to save their close friend, and we have our giant monster movie.
Amidst the hype of Cloverfield, I have heard many say this movie is somehow about 9/11; kind of like how the original Godzilla was symbolic of the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. While I can't say that I saw evidence of this in the plot or dialogue – there were a few scenes that definitely invoked memories of that terrible Tuesday. In one scene there is a full on building collapse with the subsequent dust and debris pluming down the street. People are coughing and wheezing, and the main characters take refugee inside a convenience store. Whether this was meant to invoke the memory of 9/11 specifically, I can't say. But I can say with certainty that the graphics artists who worked on the special effects in this scene only knew how to make the effects of a collapsing skyscraper so real because of the footage we have from 9/11. In another scene, Rob gets a call from his mother on his cell. He informs her that he was "right near it but OK." If you lived in NY or DC on 9/11, you definitely got the same call (if you were getting service; in this case Rob's was cutting in and out).
Anyway, Cloverfield is a great film that has blockbuster written all over it. It is worth mentioning that some will have gripes about the ending – it seems to be a trend among filmmakers lately to have an ending that is somewhat ambiguous if not a downer (in the sense that things don't end so rosy). But after several decades of films, it's an understandable decision, because we are kind of running out of original endings. Regardless of whether you're left feeling satisfied as a result of the end, there's no denying this is one believable movie – and with that believability comes fear, tension, and empathy for the main characters – who you like so damn much because they remind you of… you.
While the review is finished, here are some other thoughts:
The box office success of this movie combined with the soon to be rampant sci-fi nerd speculation about the monster – its origins, the government's reaction, etc – will eventually bring us a follow up. Whether it will be a traditional sequel per se is probably in doubt. But the evolution of Cloverfield in the form of a spin off, prequel, or horrible show on the sci-fi channel is most certainly not. The film was simply too good, and there are simply too many teasing questions (For instance – If this case is designated "Cloverfield", what are the other cases designated? If this is "incident site U.S. 447", where are the other incident sites and how many are there? And oh yeah, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!).
I could be mistaken (or it might have been wishful thinking), but before the initial text pops up on the screen, you hear what sounds like giant foot steps – exactly like those in the original 1954 Godzilla (in which they also occur before the movie starts). Was this a reference and ode to the grand daddy of all giant monster films? Or was it simply the imagination of one giant-monster-loving movie critic? (For the record, I did view the original Godzilla before heading to the theater.) To tell you the truth, after putting it on paper it'll be pretty funny if it's the later – but I'm going out on the limb on this one.