Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'd Punch A Cloverfield In The Face

Yeah, I know; I'm a good, what, three or four months behind the times? Sure, I admit that I may be largely oblivious to the major pop-cultural events of my own life. In my defense, I don't get the chance to see too many movies in the theatres, so often times I have to wait until they come out on video and I accidentally happen to be in the right place at the right time to see it.

So apparently some movie called Cloverfield came out a while back and apparently some people saw it. Instead of following the advice of critics and friends, I contented myself with questioning why someone would name a monster Cloverfield, which seems like a silly non-threatening name for a monster, and offering to punch Cloverfield in the face. Of course, it turns out that Cloverfield is not the name of the monster and yet again I am proven to be an idiot. Sigh.

At any rate, I finally got around to seeing the movie last night. It was good, my friends.

It was one of those movies where I'm sitting there watching it and am aware of the fact that I'm enjoying myself. I don't want to give too much of it away although, really, there's not too much to give away. Basically, it's a monster movie. Like, a giant monster movie in the vein of King Kong or Godzilla or Gamera, the gigantic flying turtle that featured so prominently in Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (That's right, I'm a nerd. Deal with it).

Despite the fact that I loved the Rampage video games back when I was a kid, I've never been a huge fan of the monster movie. They've always seemed a bit hokey to me, even in this age of life-like computer generated everything. There's always some convoluted sciency backstory and a moment in which the geeky scientist type explains to a military type and a hot lady exactly what's going on and how they can stop the monster using science. And the monster always dies at the end in some huge all-out battle to the death and once again humanity is saved. At least until the monster's eggs hatch and, oops, IT'S SEQUEL TIME BABY!

And sure, Cloverfield has the beautiful women and the huge battle at the end, but the one thing that Cloverfield does that makes it markedly different from my experience with monster movies is that it puts the camera right on the ground the whole time.

The frame for the movie is that the audience is watching footage recovered by the army from a digital camera found in what remains of Central Park in New York. Consequently, the entire movie is shot from the view of some guy and his friends videotaping their attempts to rescue others and escape.

This does a couple of things. First, it makes the story intensely personal. The plot is not about the monster or how to defeat the monster or what caused the monster to be, but about the people who are jst struggling to stay alive. As a result, the movie is more emotional and the stakes are bigger since you are basically running for your lives with the main characters.

The second is that you rarely ever see the entire monster until the end of the movie, and you never get a complete understanding of what's going on or why the monster is attacking New York. You know only as much as the main characters know, which is just enough information to know that somewhere there's a backstory but not enough information to piece it together. This means that the audience is constantly guessing and, as a result, engaged in the story.

And since these events are taped over a previously used tape, you get little snippets of the other tape from time to time, which offers some interesting moments of juxtaposition. I'm not completely sure what that means - it's a term I heard of in college - but it sounds like a film majory thing to say.

The drawback to this approach is that the camera work jumps around all over the place which, though it lends a realistic feel to the movie, also from what I understand caused some instances of vertigo and motion sickness for some in the theatre. The other problem is that I've never heard of a digital camera's battery life lasting for as long as the events took place. I'm lucky if my camera is alive for ten minutes at a time (though that's plenty of time to videotape myself shaving obscene words into my chest hair, but that's another post altogether).

But this is the kind of stuff that I'm willing to overlook for the sake of suspending disbelief. And though I didn't find it to be as terrifying as so many others did, it was still a very engaging and interesting movie with moments of humor and the occasional explosivly bloody death. If you have the chance to rent, I'd highly recommend it.

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