Archive for September 19th, 2008

#1467: Cloverfield

Shaky cam, ahoy!

Seriously, I saw this movie a few years ago.   It was called The Blair Witch Project.

Cloverfield tells the story of a group of friends who are living it up in Manhattan, celebrating one friend’s new job in Tokyo when something goes horribly wrong in the city.  Things start blowing up and buildings come crashing down, and the group of friends rushes into the street to see a glimpse of a large monster doing its best Godzilla impersonation.  From there, the rag tag group has to survive crazy obstacles to survive, including their own stupidity.

What amazes me about Cloverfield is how thoroughly unappetizing fare it is.    What should have been buttery, popcorn fun is just plain gross.

Any movie like this, you should actively care about the survival of the main characters.    The idea of the introduction to our scrappy bunch of survivors is by showing them at a party, where it’s painfully evident that they’re shallow, self-absorbed types who have some randomly interspliced love problems to keep things predictably interesting, in a way.   So, right from the get go, you think to yourself, “Right…I should care…why?”

That’s a problem.   Oh, and they have crap taste in music, which certainly doesn’t help matters any.

And when the big bad monster starts destroying New York skyscraper by skyscraper, the conversation descends into less of “Dude!   Bro!  MAN!”   and more into, “AIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE, OHMIGOD OHMIGOD OHMIGOD” for thirty minutes straight.

Me:    “AIEEEEEEEEE.   When are you all going to die?  Hurry up.   I’ve got another terrible movie waiting to be watched.”

Then the little monsters that spawn from the big monster come out, and the characters make the most infinitely stupid decision imaginable – head into the subway tunnels.   They get picked off, one by one, in a grueling testament to my patience and ability to grind my teeth into a fine powder.   By the time one dies via stomach explosion, it’s easily apparent that everyone is going to die.

Oh, wait.   There’s still another 45 minutes left to the movie.   Filler time.

So the characters are left zig-zagging around Manhattan, trying to rescue a friend and board a helicopter, and you get a subtle, Jason-esque “Gotcha!” moment, where the remaining survivors believe they’re free and then are pretty much bitchslapped by the monster into Central Park.

At the end of the film, you’re left with two characters professing their love before Central Park and the rest of Manhattan is carpetbombed to destroy the monster.   Fun!

I was actively cheering for the monster to win by the end (“Go, big grey thing, GO!”).   That’s how shallow and single-layered these characters are; the dumb guy is dumb, the best friends truly ARE in love, and the nasty, bitchy outsider is … nasty and bitchy.

Not a moment of it is really, truly terrifying.   If you could get a good visual lock on what’s going on, that would certainly help.   Most of the movie is set at night from the perspective of a handheld camcorder, so it’s not exactly easy to make out what’s going on.   Further, this whole “civilian footage” thing would be infinitely more appealing to me had we not already seen this for The Blair Witch Project.

Now, I’m not a professional – I have no film degree, no (real) writing experience, no great depth or understanding of film criticism in general.   I watch movies and I write about the impressions I get.   After 1,400 plus movies, I think I can honestly say that if your story really blows, your movie is going to really blow.   They do a lot of things right:  minimal shots of the monster to heighten tension, using the whole shaky-cam shot by a Real!Person! effect to create confusion and chaos, and so on and so forth.   But the general outline of the plot doesn’t feel good to me; it feels weak and like the monster should be the star attraction, but it’s really not.

The problem is that to make an effective movie like this, you have to have something to care about.   We’ve all seen monster movies before; we’ve all seen New York Gets Destroyed movies before.   Hell, we all saw big chunks of New York get destroyed in real life.   The trick is that you have to make it feel fresh to feel scary.   There’s nothing new or exciting about Cloverfield whatsoever, aside from some intelligent marketing.

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