Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cloverfield

I should have used my free Regal movie pass on Cloverfield this Sunday night, but noooo, I have to try and use it on something I haven't already seen, and I wind up seeing 27 Dresses, which is sort of a nothing movie. It's been a while since I really felt enthused to see a movie for the second time while it was still playing the first-run places, but this is one that kept gettin better in my mind while I was writing the review.

I also want to hear the music at the end again, but it unfortunately only appears to be available on iTunes, and since I lost my iPod Shuffle a year or so ago, I haven't touched it. I really would like a soundtrack, or at least an easy download. I am also eager to see this on HD DVD. It'll be a ton of fun to spot all the little details there.

Also? There was a Star Trek teaser, which was fun to see. I'm glad the Bad Robot crew working on that. They've generally done pretty well, even if I lost interest in Lost after about a year. The details and easter eggs in their work are a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to Star Trek being fun again (although, to be fair, the last year of Enterprise had some fun going on).

Cloverfield

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2008 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run)

So how many of you saw The Host last year? You should have; it was a thoroughly fun giant monster movie out of South Korea with the neat hook of being told from the perspective of the people who normally are seen getting squashed or running away. Cloverfield takes that idea and runs with it, literally putting the camera in the hands of its characters.

We start at a going-away party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who is about to start a new job in Tokyo. Which, generally, is where you'd expect a giant monster to show up, rather than Manhattan. Rough luck there. An evacuation of the island is ordered, but Rob gets a call from best friend Beth (Odette Yustman) - she's pinned in her apartment. So Rob, his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's fiancee Lily (Jessica Lucas), Lily's friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and Rob's friend Hud (T.J. Miller) start trekking across town. Hud was videotaping the party; now he's recording things he can't believe.

Cloverfield is presented as the contents of a camera that the Department of Defense found in the area "formerly designated as Central Park", which may cause some to groan from Blair Witch Project flashbacks. The entire movie is shot with handheld cameras that shake when Hud runs and pan wildly when something outside the frame catches his attention; the viewer might often wonder why he doesn't toss the camera aside or at least turn it off when something could benefit from his full attention. Director Matt Reeves and T.J. Miller make it believable, though - Hud's a guy who would keep shooting in order to feel useful and to impress Marlena, and unlike in Blair Witch, there's not much confessional direct address of the camera.

The found-footage gimmick that Reeves and writer Drew Goddard do use to good effect is the occasional use of what was on the tape before Jason and Hud used it to record the party - month-old recordings from a month earlier, capturing the day after Rob and Beth spent the night together, before everything became awkward. There's a great little metaphor in how what is happening now is destroying Rob's record and memory of when things were better, and it's a great way to add depth to comments on how Rob and Beth have been perfect for each other forever but afraid to act on it without getting into long speeches or momentum-killing flashbacks. In fact, they actually serve to heighten the suspense, because when they show up, it means that something has happened to the camera or cameraman, and the seconds used to build the love story serve as a miniature cliffhanger.

Happily, as much as Cloverfield can be viewed as basically being a love story with the kaiju stuff serving as an obstacle, it doesn't skimp on the monster-movie fun. The Cloverfield monster itself will probably never be as iconic as the likes of Gojira or King Kong, but it is enjoyably alien, in a way that could imply extraterrestrial or undersea origins, and has a nasty surprise or two up its sleeve to go with the landmark-leveling brute force. Reeves stages his action scenes very well, putting the danger back into things that audiences might take for granted by giving us an average-guy's view of them. He and his effects crew do a nice job creating the fantastic parts of the film's world, getting extra mileage from how even though the audience knows what they're getting into, most of us don't really expect to see good creature effects or a devastated New York in homemade digital video; we expect cheap and are surprised by elaborate. The style also lets terrible things happen with no warning, forcing us to process the sudden death of characters we like without the tools we've grown to expect from our action movies.

The young cast is pretty good. None of them fall into action movie clich├ęs, other than perhaps T.J. Miller as Hud, who as the story's biggest geek gets most of the best lines. Michael Stahl-David is pretty solid as Rob; I like the casual familiarity he and Mike Vogel have as brothers, along with the way Vogel and Jessica Lucas don't feel the need to telegraph that they're dating in every scene they share early on, although it comes through later on when headcount is reduced. Odette Yustman is off the screen for much of the movie, but does a nice enough job of hooking the audience in her flashback scenes. Lizzy Caplan's Marlena doesn't do quite so good a job at that; she grew on me a bit, but mostly seemed around to even out the boys and the girls.

That's a pretty small complaint, though, considering all the fun that Cloverfield fits into its 75-odd minutes of recovered footage. My biggest complaint may be that there's no way to logically fit Michael Giacchino's "Roar! (Cloverfield Overture)" into the film proper - but the upside to that is that even the closing credits are filled with giant-monster goodness.

Also at eFilmCritic, along with eight other reviews

1 comment:

patrick said...

i've heard a lot of people complain about the camera movement, but still, you gotta respect the cinematic originality of this movie, a unique way to communicate what's going on