CLOVERFIELD is a new movie about a giant monster named Cloverfield who comes out of the water and attacks New York City. Cloverfield knows he has a sissy name that’s way too close to that asshole cat Garfield. He wants it to have a more rebellious ring to it, like [Holden] Caulfield, or at least semi-respectable, like Seinfeld before he started advertising BEE MOVIE. So to prove he’s not fucking around and to establish dominance one of the first things Cloverfield does on his visit to the big city is rip the head off the Statue of Liberty and throw it across Manhattan. If he was trying to bowl it was a gutterball but, poor bowler or not that shit is threatening to a human like you or me. Let’s face it, he has a size advantage. That is the main thing going on between Cloverfield and us. More weight, more reach. Not really a fair fight.
Since we don’t actually witness the incident (except for where the head lands) it’s hard to really know for sure what Cloverfield’s motive is. It’s easy to jump to conclusions that he’s making a statement about the loss of liberty in America post 9-11, or perhaps he is some sort of rabid anti-American and is threatening our liberty. He should realize that it is very insensitive in the post 9-11 world to not only attack landmarks in Manhattan but to make people think of being beheaded. I don’t care if the fucker’s from space, if you’re visiting some place you gotta do research on the local customs and not just be a big asshole like that. So he’s either very anti-american or just a prick. Or maybe he hates women. My guess though is he thought the statue looked at him funny. Or he saw that torch and thought she was armed and just acted on reflex. After all, it is New York. Okay, I have gone through alot of theories here but I’m sticking with that last one, the Amadou Diallo theory. If anybody finds evidence to back me up on one of those stupid “viral marketing” websights everybody got all caught up in please let me know.
The truth is we don’t really know alot about Cloverfield. He comes from the sea. He is not careful about damaging buildings. I heard he eats people. He has some bad hygiene, because giant poisonous spiders flake off of him. Worst dandruff ever. The movie really isn’t about Cloverfield though as much as it’s about some urban professional youths who are having a party that gets interupted by Cloverfield’s out of control behavior. As you know this is a movie like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or MAN BITES DOG or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or THE LAST BROADCAST or GUINEA PIG or THE LAST HORROR MOVIE or the first part of BEHIND THE MASK or the last part of SNUFF or various parts of FACES OF DEATH or MY LITTLE EYE or REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET or REDACTED or THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES or DIARY OF THE DEAD or WAITING FOR GUFFMAN where it pretends to be actual footage of a real event. There’s a going away party for a guy named Rob, and his brother’s girlfriend wants to make a video for him to remember them by. Then they keep taping during the monster attack “because people will want to know,” and you are watching their tape, which was found in Central Park.
I’m sure this is a premise that a million people thought of before: “what if somebody had a camcorder there when Godzilla attacked?” But these type of movies are usually low budget independents and that’s why they’re doing the fake documentary gimmick. This one is only low by studio standards, so it’s kind of cool that somebody put the money into it to show what it would be like to just capture a glimpse of giant tail or tentacle as you’re running down a rumbling city street. The effects look pretty real and it definitely gives you a different angle on the standard giant monster story. (A low angle.)
I was impressed by the way it sets up the characters. The one you like best is the one you see the least, the guy behind the camera for most of the movie. How many movies have a memorable off screen character? He’s immediately set up as kind of a dumb funny guy, providing comic relief from behind the camera, and they establish his personality so you believe he might keep taping through alot of this. Of course, we’ve seen enough amateur video of disasters we almost don’t need an explanation for that. CNN calls them “iReporters” I think. And there’s a scene where everybody takes out their phones and starts snapping pictures of the Statue of Liberty’s severed head, which rings very true. But they don’t try to force feed you some point about modern technology and voyeurism or the way the camera lens acts as a protective layer to distance these guys from the horror in front of them or that by capturing a soul (taking a photo) we are taking away its power or some shit like that. It’s all there if you want to read it but they feel no need to get out the highlighters.
But wait a minute. This giant monster movie is really about PEOPLE? In most of the Godzilla type movies that’s the last thing you want to see is a bunch of fuckin people. There are way too many scenes of scientists standing around in lab coats discussing things. This goes all the way back to the first GODZILLA. That had a good tragic character at the center but still, you’re always waiting for the monster to eat a train or something. GODZILLA FINAL WARS is the only one I know of that has a memorable human character, because they have some guy from Ultimate Fighting who has a big mustache and tries to fight Godzilla with a sword. Would’ve been cool if that guy was invited to Rob’s party. Things would’ve turned out better.
Anyway, the natural answer would be to have less people and more monsters, but this movie’s answer is to make the people a little more relatable. Alot of people are excited because the movie is produced by J.J. Abrams, who does TV shows that people besides me like to watch and enjoy, etc. And of course everybody knows that director Matt Reeves can be trusted, as he is the co-writer of UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY. But what people don’t mention is that those two were also the creators of the late ’90s TV show FELICITY which was also about young people in New York City who have relationships and somewhat naturalistic acting and like to make home videos and are involved in clever gimmicks and do impulsive things because they think they’re in love and have fancy apartments and wear nice sweaters. From what I understand. I don’t know much about the show, apparently something about a young girl named Felicity Porter (Keri Russel) who upon graduating high school impulsively decides to ditch her plans and move to New York City to go to the same school as a boy she barely knows but has a crush on. Then it expands to be about the developing relationships between a group of her roommates, classmates and co-workers as she learns life lessons and struggles with her affection for two boyfriends who are opposites and decides to study art instead of medicine and then in one episode they’re all tiny and trapped inside a box and it’s shot TWILIGHT ZONE style. I don’t know, you’d have to ask somebody more familiar with it but someone who has seen it might argue that CLOVERFIELD is a natural extension of the type of style those guys did on FELICITY but expanded into the world of giant monster attacks. I think maybe I heard somebody argue that or something, I’m not sure.
But even if you can’t relate to these youths with their crushes and feelings and what not, at least you can relate to their size. Because like I said, they are human-sized, just like you. I can’t emphasize this enough. They are smaller than Cloverfield. This might be a broad generalization but in my experience all humans are small compared to Cloverfield and it’s pretty awe inspiring to be in their shoes looking up at that motherfucker. For the record, I have no idea what Cloverfield looks like, the clearest shot of him is looking up at him from below his neck, like a nipple’s eye view. If I had to guess I’d say he looked like that monster Luke Skywalker killed in RETURN OF THE JEDI fucked some weird albino bat or something.
I went to a midnight show with a huge crowd of nerds. One pissed off guy yelled “BULLSHIT!” at the end, which I thought was funny. All I can figure is he was frustrated that it is exactly what the premise tells you and no more. You don’t ever know where the monster came from or if it for sure got stopped or the usual sort of things you see in the ten thousand regular giant monster movies available for you on home video. You don’t know what the president said or the guys in the war room and there was never a part where an animal just barely escaped death. Yeah, those kind of movies can be fun but the strength of this one is that it’s not that type of movie. You have a limited perspective, a limited knowledge, just like you would if you were at Rob’s party when the shit went down.
So I thought they did a good job and it’s well put together, complete with awkward in-camera edits and what not. The characters are more likable than the ones in BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because they whine less, they show care for each other and they have more of a gallows sense of humor. And you glimpse some pretty harrowing monster destruction, so it works on an amusement park ride level.
I also think it has a heart to it. Everybody knows the original GODZILLA was about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so it’s not surprising that this movie is clearly coming from a post 9-11 perspective. (sorry, that’s the third time I’ve used that term. But I swear it was relevant.) If somebody used this gimmick before 2001 maybe it would’ve been more about what other awesome things the monster could do besides disrespecting Lady Liberty. Remember INDEPENDENCE DAY, everybody was all excited about blowing up landmarks?
That’s not the mentality of CLOVERFIELD, it’s more interested in showing the emotions we all went through on 9-11. It’s about friends wanting to appreciate the time they have together, wanting to make sure the people they love know that they are loved, wanting to go back for the person who was left behind, wanting to go with their friend to go back for the person who was left behind even though they know it’s a stupid thing to do. But it’s what they need to do. These are all responses to any disaster but to many Americans they are things you thought about more after knowing about 9-11, so they’re things that become more necessary in a movie like this than they were before. Before Will Smith could’ve just went in and started shit talking Cloverfield, calling him ugly. But who knows if he’s ugly or not for his species, we don’t even know what his peers would look like if he had any, or which one would be considered ugly by their standards of beauty. So that would be kind of racist. Come on Will Smith, this is 2008. Not trying to be “PC” or anything but jesus, don’t be such an asshole.
So this is a really intense experience, in fact people were so involved in the movie that they started to throw up! I’ve never seen anything like it. Nah, I’m just fucking with you. I didn’t notice any puking in the theater, but there was quite a bit outside the exit. It may or may not have been caused by the motion sickness from watching a camera shake around for 70 minutes. I noticed they carefully placed little camera-stays-still intermissions every couple scenes. I hate shakycam because it takes the geography out of action scenes, but I didn’t think it would be a problem here since obviously I know going in that it’s the whole reason for the movie. It makes it seem like a real video but in a weird way it kind of made the movie less intense for me, it’s kind of distancing. Because it puts you in the position of watching a video of an event, not experiencing the event. If you were “Hud,” the character with the camera, you would see much more than what’s in the viewfinder. You wouldn’t be as disoriented as you are watching this movie.
So it’s strange because I liked the “realism” of CLOVERFIELD but on a gut level I was much more affected by the more artificial, more Hollywood approach of Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. It’s a similar perspective – you only see what Tom Cruise and his family see, so the tripods are usually across a field and you don’t cut away to some big meeting in the war room. And the information you learn is from news reports or people they run into. You might hear some information passed on by a soldier on the ground, but you won’t see the top guy giving the command. So it has that limited perspective but it’s still shot like a movie, you get the benefit of seeing things more clearly and being less nauseous. And without pretending not to be a movie, it subliminally gives you a feeling of reality. It creates reality instead of dressing up like reality. For me it’s still the champion of PG-13 intensity.
Another good comparison might be CHILDREN OF MEN, which created a feeling of realism with those seemingly-continuous handheld shots, but didn’t pretend to be a documentary. For me CLOVERFIELD never got anywhere near the tenseness of those scenes, but it did have some good ones. My favorite is when they’re on a street pretty close to the monster and all the sudden a bunch of soldiers run up and just start firing bullets and missiles at the fucker (because they are racist like Will Smith) and Rob and friends are standing right there, in danger from both sides. Total chaos.
If CLOVERFIELD is a hit it’ll be interesting to see if they try to do a sequel. Obviously you want to see Cloverfield fight one of his fellow monsters, even if it does kind of promote stereotypes about monsters. I don’t know, maybe if they do that then the Will Smiths of the world win, and nobody wants that. But the real dilemma is not how many monsters, but what type of camera. The FELICITY/CLOVERFIELD team faces the same problem as the BLAIR WITCH sequel people. Either they do another camcorder-POV and the novelty has worn thin, or they do it regular style and they’ve ditched what was unique about the original.
I think they did leave a couple little ways they could connect it. There’s some kind of muffled voice at the end of the credits that I couldn’t hear over everybody shushing each other, but it might be some kind of hint. The first scene is in an apartment and they talk about a girl’s dad not being home – so the sequel could be about her dad. My guess is they’ll call it HAMMERDOWN and do like a pro-shot documentary or news crew account of the fight against the monster, which will turn out to survive and then at least one other monster will crawl out of the sea to fight it. And more and more shit will just keep hitting the fan. Still only one fan but just a huge amount of shit hitting it. Then at the end there’s a twist where either Predator or Freddy comes out. Or I guess Jason since it would be hard to get Freddy on camera, unless the whole thing turns out to be a dream, which might be too weird of a twist.
Or maybe it will be a prequel about setting up the decorations for Rob’s party.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.