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Reviews from the Edge: Cloverfield

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Greetings from the Edge!

Welcome back, my little Edge-lings. This week we’ll be taking an anniversary look at Cloverfield, director Matt Reeves’s attempt to seize the kaiju crown with his “Found Footage” style monster movie. Starring Michael Stahl-David as Rob Hawkins, soon to be leaving for Japan ( Ha, get it Kaiju-Japan…funny), Odette Annable as Beth McIntyre, Rob’s current/former girlfriend and general social butterfly, Lizzy Caplan as Marlena Diamond, model, phone addict, and being quietly creeped on by T.J. Miller as Hudson ‘Hud’ Platt, our camera “Dude” with a really messed up sense of priorities.

Cloverfield opens with a video test pattern and an annoying beep announcing that this document ( #USGX-8810-B467 ) was found on a memory card recovered from the area formerly known as “Central Park,” now know nas “US-447.” The next thing we see is a hand cam recording of an enormous New York City apartment with a view of Central Park and a young couple waking up and making plans for the day.

Soon we learn that this is actually being recorded several days before the “Cloverfield” incident, and this leads into a latter recording of the characters preparing a farewell party for Rob Hawkins, who is moving to Japan to be a corporate Junior Vice-President. Over the course of the party, we learn that infidelity has been committed and animosities are uncovered.

Then the power goes out and lives of privilege are interrupted by explosions and panic as something begins to make its way through the city.

Will our wealthy urbanites be able to navigate an escape from a New York City under siege by a force of nature with a will of its own, or will they be unable to pull together long enough to do what must be done?

Poor Lady Liberty as seen here is suffering from hydrocephalus, as her head is depicted 50% larger than in real life. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The special effects in Cloverfield are very impressive… when I could actually make them out. Between the dark, the shaky cam ( soooo shaky ) and the fact that nothing was allowed to stay in frame longer than a second and a half, it felt mostly wasted.

I actually feel sorry for the special effects people that had so much of their efforts obscured by the “Found Footage” style camera work. The monster itself ( when it can be seen ) is pretty original, at least, and the parasites are a nice touch to give the characters a threat that they can confront on their own level ( although they are taken directly from The Return of Godzilla or Godzilla 1985 in the States ). The wreckage and the military response can be impressive, but, and I feel like I’m starting to harp on this, are mostly lost to the camera work.

I did learn that the parasite attack was originally meant to be practical effects, but at the last minute the director scrapped it after seeing the puppets at work. I’d actually really like to see the practical effect version and see how it turned out.

Lizzy Caplan as Marlena Diamond. First a creepy guy follows you around a party with a camera, then a kaiju attack. Some nights, you just can’t catch a break! (image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Cloverfield is a weird mixture of 9-11 allegory, kaiju film, and disaster movie tropes married to the extremely shaky found footage cam craze. You get the feeling that Cloverfield thought it was being very profound. It’s trying to be dark, serious, and thinks it has things to say, but with so little story and frankly distracting camera work, I just couldn’t take any of it seriously.

To be fair, some of that may be the nausea talking, but I just don’t feel like there is enough substance to make up for Cloverfield’s failings and flaws.

Sadly, I think that with better ( read steady ) camera work, more likable characters, and a little more thought put into the script, Cloverfield could have been something really interesting. Imagine a kaiju movie from the perspective of one of the countless people seen fleeing in the background of almost every Godzilla film. Part of me thinks that is what writer David Goddard and Director Matt Reeves wanted to get across. However, I’m pretty sure that the pitch for Cloverfield was something along the lines of, “Hey, you know how Gojira is an allegory for the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Well, let’s copy and paste that with 9-11 and make it found footage so we don’t have to work as hard on the story or script.”

The Cloverfield Monster. Now that is a face that only a mother ( monster ) could love. (image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

I’m going to be honest and say this movie was not for me. Between motion sickness so bad I had to keep looking away from the screen, a plot so flimsy it defies the serious tone the film attempts to maintain, and what I found to be unlikable characters, it was a very long sit, which is especially egregious considering that, without the credits, Cloverfield is around 80 minutes. So no, no I can’t give it a positive recommendation. I think I can see what they were trying to do but, for me, I don’t think it was very successful.

If you want a good kaiju movie, I’d recommend Pacific Rim. if you want a good disaster film, you could try The Poseidon Adventure ( I’d recommend Airplane! myself, but I don’t particularly like disaster movies ), and if you want a 9-11 movie recommendation, well, your on your own. I’m afraid I haven’t seen one yet I don’t feel was exploitative or in poor taste.

P.S. For all the Godzilla & kaiju fans out there that will get this, I’d rather ‘watch Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) back to back three times than watch Cloverfield again.

Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!

I just wanted to say a little something about Odette Annable’s character, Beth McIntyre. She’s still wearing high heels… after running from kaiju, killer parasites, and a seeming ocean of rats, she’s still wearing her high heels, which apparently she’s been running in all night. The stupidity just astounds, my friends, the stupidity astounds.

I know that we’re supposed to care about these characters, but they are so self-involved, over-privileged, and unlikable, that when they meet their fates through extreme fecklessness, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. The only character who I might have liked is Lizzy Caplan playing Marlena Diamond, and she dies saving the trio of trust fund babies from kaiju pubic lice.

I also love the fact that Hud ( like heads up display, yuck yuck yuck, get it…) can’t be asked to drop the @#%ing camera long enough to actually help the girl who he’s been pestering all night and who SAVES HIS USELESS LIFE because, “Bro like like bro, this is important, I can’t stop filming.” I’m so glad T.J. Miller went onto better  things, because he provided the only laughs to be had in Cloverfield, but it’s him, not the script, that gives them.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if Godzilla is still the “King of the Monsters.” Cloverfield may well be “King of Nauseating Camera Work!” though.

Our next installment of the Edge will be looking at The Return of the Killer Tomatoes, the 1988 sequel to the homicidal herbiage that was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Will a decade of experience and the acting talent of both George Clooney and John Astin be able to top the sheer insanity of the original? Come back to the Edge and find out!

About Author

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Justin T. Williams hails from the Great state of Texas. His life has been a series of strange adventures that makes for intriguing writing but difficult laundry. Justin is known to his friends as a lifetime fan of comics, movies, and classic pulps. He lurks far from the sun, indulging in his favorite pastimes of writing and hoarding random bits of interesting but useless knowledge.

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