While I knew many friends who were thrilled to see Transformers this summer, I was more intrigued with the teaser trailer of Cloverfield ahead of the movie. Since this monstrous teaser debut, Cloverfield had been rumored to be everything from a live-action Voltron film to a story from the Cthulhu Mythos.
Well, the first highly anticipated film of 2008 is out, and everyone wants to know whether it lives up to the hype.
The answer… sort of.
On one hand, I thought this was one of the most innovative event films I’ve ever seen. It managed to mix the flavor or an indie drama with a massive big-budget blockbuster. We’ve all heard the comparison of this being Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project, and that is exactly what it is.
In some ways, I think this movie is going to go over best with those out there that abhorred the television series Felicity. Even though you go in knowing it’s a monster movie, the first fifteen or twenty minutes is right out of a J.J. Abrams television show with angst-filled relationships against the backdrop of a bunch of good looking friends drinking late at night.
However, this indie-flick-style Felicity episode goes horribly wrong when an explosion rocks Manhattan, tossing an oil tanker on its side and ripping the head off the statue of liberty. We have all seen this footage already, in front of Transformers this summer.
The entire film is told through the use of a videotape found after the events in the story. Keeping with the concept, the movie never deviates from the images on the tape. This is both good and bad. It’s good because there’s a passionate level of commitment with the filmmakers. They also manage to tell the entire story (although they sometimes go out of their way to avoid explanation) without breaking this concept.
At the same time, this is bad. I had flashbacks to when I actually left the theater during The Blair Witch Project to avoid a bout of projectile vomiting. While I’ve not been affected as severely with a film since, I did start to get a headache and a twinge of nausea during Cloverfield.
Fortunately, the film runs a scant 75 minutes (with another 10 minutes of credits), so they don’t go overboard too much with the video shots.
Sadly, though, the most interesting character in this movie is the monster, as well as the little monstrosities that flake off of it in the middle of the flick. Yet, the bad guys are the least developed characters and, save or one awesome money shot at the end, you don’t get enough of them.
I really developed a love-hate relationship with Cloverfield. I respect the hell out to the film, and I would recommend seeing it in the theater for the event experience alone. However, I think it will play better on video because the frenetic shaky-cam footage won’t be nearly as jarring.
Plus, the characters lost my sympathy early for some incredibly dumb moves. For example, one character demands to search for his would-be girlfriend, who is trapped in the upper east side. Getting to her requires him to go through the war zone the monster is creating. I just didn’t buy somebody going so deep into the fight just for the off chance that the girlfriend might still be alive. Of course, if he fled the city in the first half hour of the film, there wouldn’t be much of a movie left, would there?
Ultimately, my take on Cloverfield is much like my take on Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: If the monsters weren’t in the scene, I kept wondering when they would show up so they could eat more people.
The Upside: A truly innovative look at the traditional monster movie.
The Downside: Makes you want to puke… but in a good way.
On the Side: The only thing scarier than the monster, in my opinion, was John Travolta in a fat suit last summer.