“Cloverfield”: A brief review (w/spoilers at the end)

| January 15, 2008

[Thanks to the incoming links, particularly from io9 and Ace of Spades HQ, two of my favorite blogs; as the saying goes, feel free to look around (and to hit the tipjar over in the right column). Also, the first section of this review is spoiler-free; all the spoilers are in a white-text section at the end.]

I just got back from seeing a screening of “Cloverfield” (UA Colorado Center Theaters, 7 pm — and if you still doubt me, here are two words to prove it: “Coney Island”). The ‘high concept’ of “Cloverfield” is apparent from the trailers, namely, “Godzilla” meets “The Blair Witch Project” — that is, a giant-monster-destroys-a-city movie filmed from a hand-held camcorder point of view.

“Cloverfield” is a far, far better movie than that description might lead you to believe. It’s frankly a far better movie than “I Am Legend”, yet clocks in at 20 minutes less (1:20 running time). It is the first really scary ‘giant monster’ movie I think I’ve ever seen, precisely because of how it’s filmed; the hand-held filming puts you right in the middle of the confusion, destruction, and danger. The giant creature itself fits no typical mold or stereotype and is all the more frightening for that. (As a side note, neither of the two allegedly ‘leaked’ Cloverfield monster drawings I’ve seen on the net are correct). “Cloverfield” includes some of the conventions of the ‘giant monster’ movie, while often turning them on their head. The heroics are all the more heroic precisely because the people are scared, reluctant, and injured; the destruction, usually seen at ground level, looks like a citywide 9/11 event. Most glimpses of the monster are just that — glimpses.

And almost nothing is explained.

There were a few moments during the movie, though only a few, when I questioned whether the person filming would still keep filming, but by and large that wasn’t an issue. There are a few points (though only a few) where the hand-held camera POV is a bit annoying. And that’s about as much of a criticism of the film that I have. The actors disappear into their roles, the movie never drags, and the effects are stunning; be sure to see this in a theater with a large screen and a great sound system.

“Cloverfield” may well have killed the standard ‘giant monster’ film. The genre is a touch silly as it stands, and the 1998 version of “Godzilla” (with Matthew Broderick) sure didn’t help things much. On the other hand, the Korean film “The Host” is outstanding, but largely because — like “Cloverfield” — it focuses on a small group of people directly impacted by the attack, rather than the generic stomping-through-buildings.

A well-done film. Go see it. It’s the first film in a year or so that I plan to see a second time in the theaters.

SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

Since the film isn’t even out in general release until Friday, I’ve turned the spoiler text below white; to see it, just use your cursor to select the text between the lines.

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As noted above, nothing is ever really explained. We don’t know where the creature came from, what it is, or why it’s destroying Manhattan. We don’t know the actual nature of the ‘lice’ (as they’ve been termed on the net) that drop off the creature and attack humans. We don’t know why a bite from one of these lice causes some kind of catastrophic rupture or death; we don’t even get to see what exactly happens, merely the immediate and direct reaction of the medical personnel when it becomes clear that a certain character has been bitten and the explosive spatter of blood on a backlit tent. We don’t even know if the creature was destroyed in the end, only that the camcorder and its contents were recovered in the “area formerly known as Central Park”. And almost all the significant characters die, and in unpleasant ways.

Yet in the end, “Cloverfield” is a love story, and a believable one at that — all the more so because the details unfold piecemeal. That story frames (literally) the footage of the destruction, and it provides a credible motive for the main characters not to get out of Dodge. As with the ‘giant monster’ motif, the love story motif stands most standard cliches on their heads. Yet it gives the film its ultimate meaning. Beth, like almost everyone else, dies in the end — but she dies knowing that others risked their lives for her and knowing that she is loved.

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Your mileage may vary. ..bruce w..

Here are some other reviews:

Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News (with spoilers)

Early Reactions (spoiler-free)

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Category: Main, Media, Movies, Reviews

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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