Saturday, January 19, 2008


I saw a mantinee of Cloverfield yesterday, and definitely recommend it. The plot is beyond simple: Big monster attacks New York, kids attempts to survive. That's it. No frills, nothing fancy, just a group of half a dozen scared sh*tless twenty somethings running away from a giant freaking lizard thing.

Now here's why the movie works. It's filmed "Blair Witch" style from the perspective of one of the survivors holding a camcorder, so whatever they see, you see. Nothing more, nothing less. You know whatever they know, and that's it. There are no scenes of government officials discussing strategy, no POV shots of dive bombers strafing the beast from the air, no scientists studying the monster. It has the feel of one of those King Kong or Jaws rides at Universal studios. One second you're lurching along, nothing to see here, then the car/camera turns and wham there's a huge monster poking its head between two skyscrapers, or you're right smack in the middle of a firefight between a dozen soldiers and a giant, um, thing that's half hidden by the smoke and artillery. Every time you think you're safe, something really bad will inevitably happen five seconds later. Even though there isn't much more to the script than the kids screaming and yelling "come on!" and "let's get the hell out of here!" it works because, come on, if you were being chased by a huge beast that was tearing up the city while your friends were dying around you, would you have much time for witty banter? 

That's another good thing. You never feel like the characters are braver than they should be. They never pick up a machine gun and fire away at the baddie, they never once try to hatch a plan to expose the beast's 'weak spot', and none of them are going to enter an F-15 and commence an air raid.  They're scared, and make decisions based on what seems to work at any any given moment, not because they've seen other monster movies and know how these things work.

The movie does conjure up some recollections of 9/11, some of them fairly uncomfortable, such as the beginning explosion in downtown Manhattan, and the cloud of dust that overtakes the survivors right after. It truly is a disaster film for 2008, like when the head of the Statue of Liberty comes rolling down the street and after a brief moment of terror, out come the cell phone cameras.

The kids know nothing more about the beast than they hear through news reports or overheard conversations, and even that ain't much. There are two set pieces in particular that work exceedingly well. The first happens while the kids attempt to navigate the subway tunnels to reach a trapped friend, and realize that this thing has brought little, um, things with it. The second is when the kids need to traverse the top of one building onto another that's been attacked, and is now propped up Pisa-like at an angle that suggests it won't be upright very long. 

Now the movie isn't all great. The kids definitely make some head-scratchingly dumb decisions, and the ending is pretty unsatisfying. But on the whole it's a terrific movie experience, and I use the word experience because this is one of the few movies where it feels like the events are happening around you rather than in front of you.

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