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Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 254: Cloverfield

A little too much off the top

I loved monster movies as a little kid, specifically the Japanese monsters. Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah were some personal favorites. I still have toys of those monsters tucked away in a box somewhere. Looking back on them now, they seem quaint and almost goofy, but there was just something special about them as a child. I liked the way they looked and sounded and enjoyed their different special powers and abilities. They were something out of a comic book only brought to life, destroying cities as people fled in terror. Whatever the reason, monster movies have a special place in my heart and in the hearts of people across the globe. You can see a monster movie in a language you don't understand, but you can still comprehend what is going on. It's that universal appeal that makes me wonder why we don't see more monster movies. Luckily, we have Cloverfield.

Cloverfield is a 2008 science fiction horror movie produced by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) directed by Matt Reeves (Felicity, Let Me In). Shot in the “found footage” style, taken from a hand-held camera recovered by the United States Department of Defense. The footage we see is now government property and designated as part of the “Cloverfield” case. The beginning of the video starts with Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David, The Black Donnellys, My Generation) greeting his formerly platonic friend Beth (Odette Yustman, The Unborn, Operation: Endgame) in bed. The footage cuts to two weeks later to Rob's brother Jason and his girlfriend Lilly planning Rob's going away party. Rob will be moving to Japan for a new job and all of his friends have gathered to wish him well. Jason gives the camera to his friend Hud (T.J. Miller, Yogi Bear, Happy Endings) to get testimonials from everyone at the party. Hud tries to speak with Marlena (Lizzy Caplan, Mean Girls, 127 Hours) whom he has a crush on, but she continuously brushes him off. Beth arrives at the party with another man, upsetting Rob. As Jason and Hud try to console Rob, a large explosion rocks New York City. Initially believed to be an earthquake, the party empties out into the street. The head of the Statue of Liberty comes crashing into the street, complete with scratch marks on it. An enormous monster is seen walking through the streets of New York, smashing and collapsing buildings. Rob, Jason, Hud, Lilly, and Marlena start to evacuate the city by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Rob receives a phone call from Beth, saying that she is hurt and needs his help. At the same time, the monster's gigantic tail crashes into the bridge, killing Jason and causing the group to flee back into Manhattan. The group venture's into Midtown Manhattan, taking refuge in a subway station. They make their way into the tunnels where they are attacked by vicious arachnid-like creatures that came from the gigantic monster. One of the creatures tries to drag Hud off, but Marlena saves him, being bitten in the process. They make their way to a department store, which is filled with doctors and military personnel. Marlena begins to bleed from her eyes and is whisked away to a cordoned-off area where she appears to literally explode. An officer informs Rob, Hud, and Lilly that the last evacuation helicopters leave at 0600 and after that, the “Hammer Down” protocol will be enacted, thus destroying the city. They make their way to Beth's apartment where they find her injured, but alive. Will they be able to make it out of the city before the city is destroyed by the monster or the military?

"Worst Thanksgiving Day Parade ever!"

Normally, I;m not the biggest fan of the “found footage” style of horror movies. Most of the time, they're a vehicle to get cheap scares on a tiny budget. In Cloverfield's case, budget was not an issue as there are a large amount of special effects and computerization. The found footage style works for Cloverfield because it puts the audience right in the middle of the action. Most found footage horror involves a small group of people alone in a scary place. Cloverfield is in the most populated city in the world. There are lots of extras and scenes take place near iconic buildings and areas. There are lots of extras and the inclusion of the military makes the movie into a big blockbuster. We are on the ground with the characters as they flee in terror. The movie cleverly shows the audience brief glimpses of the monster throughout the movie, never fully revealing it until the final act. It will take some time to get used to the shaking camera, but it does not reach the level of “Bourne Identity” shakiness. There is plenty of action throughout the movie with lots of scares and thrills to keep the audience entertained. The movie is fairly believable other than the scene where the group has to climb a tilting building to get to Beth. It was a bit too much for me to suspend my disbelief. The acting and directing are both very good and help make the movie feel more complete.

The monster itself looks great. It's design is fairly unique with it's giant legs and harsh features. The movie smartly includes the smaller monsters to create even more danger. Rather than just avoiding the big monster, the characters now have to worry about smaller, vicious monsters that can hide just about anywhere. The origin of the monster is never revealed in the movie, though there is an intricate back-story that can be researched online. It would have been nice just to have a few clues as to what exactly is going on. It's kind of like in zombie movies where zombies just appear and that's the end of discussion. I don't need things spelled out for me, but just showing a news clip of a theory would have been enough. Hud asks these same questions about the monster, so it's not like they ignored the idea. There were rumors that the monster was actually going to be Cthulhu from the H.P. Lovecraft mythos and I was disappointed when it was not.The movie had an expansive and in-depth viral marketing campaign, complete with multiple websites posing as legitimate businesses or products that can be seen in this movie as well as other J.J. Abrams films. I leave all that searching up to you as I'm just going through what I have seen in the movie.

It's hard to ignore how much Cloverfield reminds me of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The crumbling buildings in New York City, the panic in the streets, people running from a dust cloud and walking through the streets in a haze are straight out of real life. It is very difficult to watch, especially for people who lived through that tragedy. Some have been angry at the filmmakers for exploiting the attacks and making it part of entertainment. While I can't say if having these scenes is right or wrong, it is hard to ignore the similarities. It's these similarities that make the scenes more powerful than if the movie took place in another big city. It's up to you to decide if you want to watch something like that. It's not a focal point of the movie by any means, but it may bring forth some unexpected feelings, emotions, and memories. Speaking of emotion, underneath all the monster-fleeing is the love story between Beth and Rob. It is actually a pretty touching story as we see scenes from their day at Coney Island spliced between footage of the monster attack. The ending may actually choke you up a bit.

"Do I have something stuck in my teeth?"

Cloverfield is a fun monster movie that is full of action and scares. The special effects are great and the monster looks perfect. The inclusion of smaller monsters increases the danger and horror as they spring out at a moment's notice. The found footage style works for the story thanks to the large budget which creates an air of legitimacy to the story. If this was a small budget movie, it just wouldn't have worked in the way that. The acting and directing are both solid, though there was a scene or two that were a bit too hard to believe. I would have liked a little more information on what the monster is or where it came from, but you can read about that online if you're truly interested. There are scenes that will remind you or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which make the scenes more terrifying, but may upset some people. Overall, Cloverfield is a really good monster movie and for someone who doesn't particularly care for sequels, I would actually like to see more of Cloverfield. That's a pretty high compliment.


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