Monday, January 21, 2008

Cloverfield - mini-review

Note: spoilers ahead.

I went to see Cloverfield at the 1:30 p.m. matinee today, along with about fifteen well-sugared and antsy thirteen-year-olds, most of whom at least remembered to turn off their cellphones before the movie started. (Now, I wouldn't say I'm completely antisocial but that is why I prefer to go to the movies for the early Friday matinees: no people.) But I digress: Cloverfield. Really superfun.

I had tried very hard to remain unspoiled for this flick. I knew it was a monster movie that no one knew very much about other than it was set in NYC and shot with a shaky hand-held camera that induced severe motion sickness in many audiences. I knew that it was written by Buffy/Angel alumnus, Drew Goddard, and produced by J.J. Abrams of Alias and Lost fame. That was all I knew when I went into the theater (with my contraband peanut M&Ms) and sat towards the back; I've only gotten motion sick from sitting too close in a movie once (the Bourne Identity) and having heeded the warnings wasn't eager to experience it again.

Plotwise, there's not a lot to Cloverfield - as I've read several places online, this ain't no Lost in terms of storyline - but there's enough. SPOILER: Monsters attack New York City and a group of very attractive late 20-/early 30-somethings try to escape from the city before the government, unable to stop the monsters, nukes the Big Apple. Everybody dies. END SPOILER. There's not much to say about the acting either; there are no big names on screen and all the actors are fairly unmemorable. Everyone does a lot of screaming and sobbing and running and generally being terrified. I'm pretty sure I'd be screaming and sobbing and running myself, so I bought it. The character "filming" the action, Hud, is hardly ever on the screen (since he's behind the camera) but he gets every funny line and had my audience chuckling out loud several times as a tension-easer.

However, the plot and the acting are less important than the action - the action is paramount in this movie and I caught myself leaning forward in my seat several times. As I mentioned, the entire thing is shot as though one of the character sees the events unfold through his own minicam. The hand-held photography lends to the sense of panic since what the audience sees is often jerky, out of focus or just outside the frame. We can't really tell what's going on. This is also good for the CGI monsters. There's at least one great big one and a bunch of little vicious bug-monsters and since we see them through the minicam, we never get to see them long enough to nitpick any problems with the CGI (a la The Mist where the monsters were clearly the movie's weak spot). That being said, I thought the monsters were well-done and scary although I think the the big one's squealing is the same sound the Lost island smoke monster makes. (J.J. Abrams might want to add a little to his sound effects budget.) There's blood and carnage but the worst of it happens out of our direct line of sight, again allowing the audience's imaginations to help carry the load.

Lesson learned after watching the very entertaining Cloverfield: no matter how fancy the party is that you're going to attend, wear sensible shoes that you can run in just in case you end up getting attacked by monstrous, murderous beasties. No sense dying for fashion.

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