This is a bit late, since I started it last weekend then got bogged down at work. But life is funny that way. Ok, so I usually don’t do reviews on the blog but I though that since we’re featuring the announcement of Hasbro’s tie-in figure of the "Cloverfield Monster" on the front page that it was relevant to review this film since I saw Cloverfield over the weekend.
For those who don’t know what it’s about, the plot has been described as "Blair Witch Project meets Gozilla"; a group of twenty somethings leave a party to rescue a friend while a monster trashes Manhattan. The whole thing is captured by a member of the group using a handheld video camera, with no soundtrack and no (overt) editing.
I liked it well enough, as an experiment, and it definitely accomplished it’s goals, but throughout the entire thing I couldn’t stop thinking of some nagging thoughts that kept pulling me out of the movie: why is Hud (the cameraman) filming everything but the monster most of the time? Why did they make these characters so vacuous? Why are they constantly running into the monster, no matter where they go? I know the filmmakers wanted the commentary on today’s callow youth, but I didn’t care about any of the characters once throughout the whole film.
And that’s the problem I had with the whole "found footage" conceit: everything that happens happens because that’s what the audience needs to see next, not because it feels very organic to the story. The whole exercise is built around the concept. But then the dialogue constantly feels stilted and written, not spontaneous. The camera work is shaky, but not realistic at all (would anyone be filming their friends running around instead of a big monster?). And the whole thing felt like a ride at Disneyland: you get the setup, then you see bits of the monster, a couple of surprises happen, then you see the whole monster but far away, then you finally get a close-up and bang! You’re going through the doors and out of the ride. And the whole thing is contained in a little building where the track loops back on itself over and over.
That’s what watching this movie felt like to me: following a pre-ordained track and twisted and turned in place to give the illusion of traveling over a large distance. And lots of shocks, but no real danger at all. I didn’t really have a problem not seeing the monster, but if you’re not going to show it then stop with the convoluted teases. Go watch Alien/Aliens to see how you can only show glimpses of something yet still be very effective in feeling like you’ve "had a full meal". And to be honest, I’m not sure that using an omniscent viewpoint and professional handheld camera wouldn’t have worked equally as well. Just do it more cinema verité like a documentary. But none of what i was watching felt "real" outside of the effects. I actually would have liked it a lot more if we didn’t have the crazy backstory and instead just maybe had a coupe of guys running around with a camera trying to see the creature and hooking up with people along the way. Then it would have made sense to see it, see the military, and be logical why you’re not getting the hell out of the city.
Anyway I did like it well enough, and will watch it again on DVD, but it’s not the instant classic I was hoping for. Still kicks Godzilla ’98’s ass, though.
And here’s some fan art that seems to be pretty close to what I can tell the creature looked like, if you want a preview of Hasbro’s toy.