Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #394 - Cloverfield



“Cloverfield” directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, is America’s answer to Godzilla. It features a monster that crawls out of the sea and decides to use New York as its new nesting ground, creating all sorts of havoc in a city that has already been destroyed countless ways on screen. On paper you would expect the filmmakers to tell the story on a grand scale, with wide shots of F-16s taking shots at the monster, but instead they decide to tell the story from the point of view of a few young party-goers whose night definitely does not go as expected.

This being one of J.J Abram’s special projects, a considerable amount of work went into building buzz for the movie without revealing too many details about the plot, or what the monster would look like. This included the mysterious teaser trailer featuring the head of the Statue of Liberty landing in the streets of New York and a viral marketing campaign. The teaser trailer sold me, but apparently the viral marketing campaign didn’t work for everyone. I saw the film on the big screen in 2008 while studying at the University of Sherbrooke. Some of my geekier friends had of course already hear about the movie, but recently I spoke to my brother about the film and he had never heard about it. Clearly, viral marketing campaigns don’t reach everyone.

Even without any pre-release excitement, first-time viewers would be captivated by the movie’s premise. The film begins with a disclaimer by the U.S government saying this footage is part of a case designated “Cloverfield” and was found in the area formerly known as Central Park. Early footage introduces the characters Rob (Michael Stahl-David), and his girlfriend Beth (Odette Annable) making their way to a farewell party for Rob who will soon leave for Japan. Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) host the party while Hud (T.J Miller) records the festivities with the hand-held camera.

Hud suddenly has something else to shoot when an earthquake first cuts off the power and then an explosion forces the partygoers to evacuate the building. Once outside, the head of the Statue of Liberty does indeed bounce down the streets, and moments later Hud gets a brief shot of the creature that did the beheading. You can’t see much, but it is big, loud, and definitely not friendly.

From then on the group treks across Manhattan, trying to first find a way out of the city, then trying to find Beth who left the party early and is trapped in her building, and eventually just trying to find a way to stay alive. Footage from the news reveals parasites seem to be jumping off the creature’s back and attacking civilians. This leads to a particularly tense sequence as the group is walking in a darkened subway tunnel and has a feeling that something is following them. Luckily, that camera has night vision. Unfortunately, just because you can see the monsters, doesn’t mean you can outrun them.

This all makes for a good monster story, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to sit through the entire movie while the “cameraperson” is shooting with a hand-held camera. I enjoyed the film’s thrills as we saw bits and pieces of the monster over time, but am I the only who is getting a little tired of the “found footage” sub-genre? Sure, it gives you the impression you are right there with the characters, and it does add a touch of realism, but at the same time it is the most unrealistic gimmick in horror right now.

I don’t know about you, but if a gigantic monster and his parasites are chasing me through New York City, I am not going to slow down to film the events with my camera or my iPhone. I am going to drop everything I am holding and head for the army command post. Yes, my chosen profession is journalism, but I would rather do coverage of film festivals, not monster attacks. Let Anderson Cooper get a shot of the city-destroying monster. Me, I am out of here!

Also, when you’re staring at the footage zigzagging on a movie screen as the characters are running for their lives and you have an unhealthy mixture of popcorn and Sprite churning in your stomach, you begin to understand why they call it a “queasy cam.”

There have been rumors of a sequel ever since the film came out and made a fortune out of its relatively small budget. I would be interested, but please, how about we find footage of someone who has a steady-cam?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …