J.J. Abrams’s most recent film is
an astounding piece of art a decent film a YouTube video.
This is what happened. I saw Cloverfield on a Friday night, a fair amount of my friends saw it Saturday night, and our Monday morning nerded-out IM conversations went something like this (loosely translated):*
Me: A pleasant Monday morning to you!
Them: And also to you! How goes it today?
Me: Well! Just enjoying the songbirds as per usual. I’m also ruminating on “Cloverfield,” which I took in at the cinemaplex this weekend.
Them: DONT EVEN START, ASSHOLE. I WILL CUT YOU UP INTO A MILLION PIECES IF YOU DARE TO POINT OUT ALL THE STUPID THINGS IN THIS AMAZING GROUNDBREAKING FILM. I MEAN IT! IT WAS THE GUY FILMING THE STUFF, WASN’T IT? AUUGHH! I KNEW YOU WOULD HATE HIM!! I KNEW IT!! WAS IT THE VERTIGO? THE ACTING? WHAT WHAT WHAT????
Oh friends. Your eagerness to defend something you deep down know to be so flimsy warms my heart. I can understand it. As hackneyed and laughable as this film was, it had that certain J. J. Abrams (producer, not director) touch that keeps you riveted to the screen. His most cherished brainchild, the TV show Lost, is famous for keeping us all guessing (and guessing and guessing), until we are so frustrated that we want to beat John Locke with Mr. Ecco’s staff until somebody tells us something about the stupid smoke monster.*
Cloverfield somehow manages to incorporate that same energy, it’s just that the answers to your questions are exactly what you secretly expected them to be. I mean sure, it’s a neat way to make a film (however unbelievable it may be). A “first-hand” account of a monster attack on New York is something you don’t see every day, but a monster attack on New York certainly is. If you’re going to offer a fresh take on a classic, why bother using Godzilla as a guide? It’s already been done and redone. How many more twists on a pretty direct story (if “story” it can even be called) can there possibly be? Not many, turns out. Watching Cloverfield attempt to shock us with that headless Statue of Liberty picture on the poster is almost like it’s pretending that it’s unaware of the endless parade of NYC-destruction movies that came before it, not to mention the ACTUAL DESTRUCTION of NYC in very recent history that I don’t think I need to remind anybody of because we will probably never forget.**
But no (the Netflix user reviews hiss)! This film is totally different. It’s realism, man. It’s like the everyman’s take on a really crazy disaster! It’s bringing video to the people, just like YouTube!
Handheld camera action does not an everyman perspective make. Just because young Manhattan loft-dwellers Rob, Lily, Beth, and their pals were shot in digital video from the perspective of their goofy friend Hud does not automatically mean that the writing, acting, direction, or even the feelings that were meant to be invoked were at all genuine. If the cinematography had been as wooden and one-dimensional as the rest of the story, this film would have slipped under the radar to join The Nanny Diaries on the list of Most Forgettable Films Ever Made. Luckily, the altered perspective is engaging enough to mask the fact that the plot is that of every other movie ever only even further diluted until it comes down to “a guy slept with a girl who he has had a crush on for a long period of time, and his friends all feel that because he never told her he loved her, he is right to try and run across town to save her because love is the most important thing of all blah blah blah.” I’m not being cynical. I’m being compassionate, actually. What kind of self-centered windbag says to the long-term girlfriend of his brother, who they both watched kick the bucket about a half hour earlier, “At least…he knew…you loved him…” Some 13-year-old girls (and all my dude friends, apparently) might have swooned somewhere, but I certainly didn’t. I was too busy silently urging the females in the film to stop blubbering at the sidelines and make some decisions. Instead all they did was dazedly support Rob on the noble errand that leads just about everyone to their doom. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way. You pretty much know this from the beginning.)
I just feel so angry at Cloverfield. Is it because I had to leave the theater right before the ending of the film because half of my viewing party was suffering from severe vertigo? Is it because I feel like it’s a lot to ask an audience to suffer through that sort of camera work for 90 minutes without some sort of Blair Witch payoff? Is it because the director actually thought a girl wouldn’t ditch her high heels at the very first sign that one is going to have to charge through rubble? I wish! I’m angry because no matter how much I wanted to hit every character with Mr. Ecco’s staff, I still want to rent this terrible, thrilling movie as soon as it comes out on DVD so I can find out exactly what I missed while I was (figuratively) holding back my boyfriend’s hair in the parking lot. After all that, I was hooked. Hooked enough to throw Cloverfield another half star. It gets another half for Lizzy Caplan‘s “Garfield” line and the remaining star just for showing up, but that’s as far as I can go without compromising the vague notions of monster movie propriety that I apparently have.
Unrelated note: I had no idea that Star Trek movies were ever taken seriously until everyone in the theater (and later my brother over the phone) collectively gasped with delight during the trailer for the new one. I guess I have some homework to do. Space homework!
*TOMORROW NIGHT, PEOPLE!! TOMORROW NIGHT!
**Nor will our colors run.