Produced by J. J. Abrams
Tagline: “Some Thing Has Found Us”
A guest review by stalwart contributor Sean Ledden
Most of the movies ridiculed, I mean critiqued, at the Monster Shack are prehistoric artifacts from a murky past. Born from the swampy fringes of a by-gone Hollywood, they lumbered across the land seeking to thrill and terrify a kinder, gentler, and sillier time. But what about the big budget spawn of today’s enlightened Hollywood ? Is it fair to ignore them just because they don’t have cardboard sets, rubber monsters or an overweening fear of communism? My answer is no. And so here, with the kind permission of Web Meister Dennis], comes a review as current and up-to-date as anything you’ll see on the E! Channel! (And a good deal more caustic and bitter to boot!)
In describing his inspiration for creating “Cloverfield,” producer J.J. Abrams tells of visiting a toy store in Japan and being impressed with Godzilla’s long-running popularity. He’s quoted as saying “we need our own (American) monster, and not like King Kong….King Kong is adorable.” I like Abrams for this, and it’s interesting how his statement confirms the utter failure of the 1998 American “Godzilla.” Abram’s creation is certainly better than the Emmerich/Devlin horror, and after seeing the very clever poster before it’s release I had high hopes. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately a failure as a monster movie.
A central problem is that Cloverfield isn’t really a monster movie, but a very generic love story between two “ordinary people” that’s interrupted by a giant monster attack. “Ordinary people” in this context means a pair of beautiful 20-something Manhattan Yuppies who like to video tape themselves constantly. This leads to the 2nd major problem, at least for this viewer – the entire film is a shaky, hand-held “home movie.” Much as I love giant monster movies I waited until this picture came out on DVD to see it. I made a wise choice. Seeing it on the big screen without the ability to hit “pause” would have given me a terrible migraine.
Regarding the monster itself – neat! And several scenes of havoc when it is nearby are well-staged. However, it’s rarely clearly visible. And since you learn nothing about it, watching the movie becomes a curiously hollow experience. I’ll say more about that after a quick sprint through the plot – such as it is.
As the movie opens, official looking writing tells us we’re about to see video recovered from a camera found in Central Park. The first portion of this video shows our hero, I’ll call him “Boy,” and his girlfriend, I’ll call her “Girl,” burbling romantic nothings to each other in the bedroom of her killer apartment overlooking Central Park. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON)
Now we’re getting ready for a party at Boy’s apartment with some other beautiful 20-something Manhattan Yuppies. It’s here we meet, sort of, the spastic doofus who’ll serve as our “voice-off” narrator and cameraman. He’s very good at jerking the camera around, failing to focus on what’s in the frame, and asking stupid questions. And so, despite being oh so up-to-date, Cloverfield shows it’s traditional colors by introducing the “Odious Comic Relief.” Wait, that’s not quite fair. Cloverfield does come up with a radical 21st Century innovation – THE ODIOUS COMIC-RELIEF SHOOTS THE ENTIRE MOVIE! (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Then we’re at the party itself, where more beautiful 20-something Manhattan Yuppies say cute things to the camera. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Boy joins the party (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Girl joins the party, with a date. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Feelings are hurt (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Girl leaves (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
FINALLY, the lights go off and something interesting starts to happen. No, not an orgy, but a giant monster attack! After seeing a huge explosion from the rooftop, panic – and movie excitement – break out as people flee down to the streets just in time to see nearby buildings collapse, giant shapes move about in the shadows, and the head of the Statue of Liberty crash down out of the sky. Great stuff. – when you can see it. And after a brief stint hiding out in a deli, Boy, Camera Doofus, and a number of party-refugees emerge into a changed world. It’s an urban nightmare taken from the images of 9/11. Everything is coated in dust, debris covers the streets, and countless sheets of paper twirl about in the murky air.
Panic breaks out on the streets as the monster attacks.
Escape seems the order of the day, and our intrepid band, along with a goodly number of extras, make for the Brooklyn Bridge, and the safety of, well…Brooklyn. Along the way there’s lots of authentically hysterical yabbering by all involved. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Panic breaks out on the bridge as the monster attacks.
Once on the bridge we get a shaky and too-brief glimpse of a burning oil tanker rammed up onto the shore, as well as a brief glimpse of the headless Statue of Liberty. (This movie too often provides teasers instead of spectacle.) Then Boy gets a cell phone call from Girl. Apparently she’s trapped in her killer apartment, (Oh the irony!) but this important conversation is interrupted by a monster attack on the bridge, and so the movie becomes exciting again. Briefly. (Speaking more about teasers, we still don’t see what the monster looks like – just a tentacle like limb. This “dance of the 7 veils” will continue for the entire movie as each time our crew crosses paths with the creature we see a little bit more of it. Only in the final minutes of the film do we see the beast entire. And while each encounter is itself exciting, there isn’t enough pay-off at the end to really bring the whole thing off.)
The Army fights back!
A direct hit!
Having fled the bridge along with the remaining party survivors, Boy tells everyone he has to rescue Girl. And so, after more hysterical yabbering and shaky camera work, everyone heads up towards Girl’s apartment – and the monster (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
The rest of the movie is more of the same. Lot’s of walking, lots of puffing up and down stairs, lots of skulking, and lots of shouted “We’ve got to get out of here!” All interrupted by exciting, if brief, near encounters with the monster. Honorable mention goes to the creepy dog-sized parasites that, having been shaken loose from the monster’s skin, scuttle about and attack people. A not so honorable mention goes to the various episodes where the camera is dropped, raising our hopes that Camera Doofus, and perhaps more of the rescue party, are dead. Alas, like cartoon characters, most of them bounce back from traumas and injuries that would kill most “ordinary people.” To give just one example, Girl is found in her trashed apartment with a big spike driven into her shoulder. Our rescue party pulls it out – off camera, thank God – and moments later she’s running, in heels, to catch a military helicopter. Now that’s realism!
The monster rages through mid-town.
Having suffered in the company of these “ordinary people” for what seems an eternity, even with the Fast Forward Button, our pay-off is a 5-second shot, taken from the helicopter window, of the monster being bombed by the Air Force. It’s a terrific shot. A terrific 5-second shot. Then the helicopter crashes and the camera is dropped. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Dammit. Boy, Girl and Camera Doofus have all survived the helicopter crash. (See what I mean?) But at least we get a close-up of the monster towering over Camera Doofus in the early morning light of a trashed Central Park. Again, cool monster design. And yes! He eats Camera Doofus! Sort of. To the thrilling sounds of CRUNCH, MUNCH, MUNCH, CRUNCH the camera spins around wildly before (again) dropping to the ground. Then a surprisingly uneaten Camera Doofus drops to the ground too. Being dead he can no longer shout “There’s some serious shit going on outside!” “Are you seeing this Shit?” or “Go! Go! Go!”
The monster looms over a terrified Camera Doofus.
The monster leaves and, oh God, Boy and Girl are still alive. They’re picking up the camera. (FAST FORWARD BUTTON.)
Sean Ledden (May 2008)
I’ll start with the positives. The effects work, when the camera stays in focus, is impressive, especially considering the movie was made for less than half of the usual block-buster budget. And, as I’ve mentioned before, Neville Page’s monster design, when visible, is one well-done freaky nightmare. What is the monster you ask? Abrams & Co. have very skillfully dropped hints & tid bits about its back-story in their publicity, but none of that comes through in the movie. So for now it doesn’t count. Maybe, if they make a sequel, we’ll actually get that back-story, and a real movie.
SPECIAL MONSTER SHACK SURPRISE PHOTO:
Separated at birth?
The Giant Claw
YOU make the call!