Cloverfield…a spoiler-free opinion.

January 18, 2008 at 3:40 am 4 comments

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I was lucky enough to check the run time of this movie before going to see it, and saw that it was barely over 90 minutes. That made me think, “Hmm… that’s kinda short. I don’t think anything will be explained.”

I was right.

Earlier today I saw El Orfanato, and incredible thriller with a lot of heart. It’s only fitting that I end the day with a popcorn movie that would seem best suited for a summertime audience.

Cloverfield is the latest project from J. J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company, directed by T.V. veteran Mark Reeves. The story is told entirely through the eyes of survivors enduring a savage monster attack on Manhattan. With a non-traditional storytelling approach, and a moderately short running time, the plot takes a back seat to some incredible staged action scenes. The movie starts with home video clips of a going away party for Rob Hawkins, a twenty-something who recently landed a vice-president gig for a company in Japan. The clips continue as we learn he is having personal troubles with an ex-girlfriend of his, and how his friends and brother react and try to help him.

Then all hell breaks loose.

What they assume to be an earthquake turns into one hellish, nick-of-time escape after another. The monster that attacks the city is huge, strong, and apparently really really pissed off. Things explode, buildings fall, and debris fills the air as we watch this band of survivors, lead by Rob, make their way through the city in search of Rob’s ex, who is trapped somewhere among the destruction.

The story’s plot holes and suspension-of-disbelief moments are numerous, but you don’t watch a movie like Cloverfield because you’re expecting some Merchant Ivory deep-thinking philosophical masterpiece. It’s basically a 90-minute action set piece. Keep that in mind and you will enjoy this movie. The action hits fast and leaves you breathless until it’s over. There is one scene that takes place in the subway system as our heroes flee large insect-like carnivorous creatures that apparently hitched a ride with the monster from wherever-it-came-from. Because it’s shot handheld by the characters, the camera angles are uncomfortable and the creatures really get in your face. Some of the people I was watching it with literally were squirming in their seats during some scenes.

This handheld approach also works by helping give the audience some sense of the scope of destruction. Anyone watching the news during and after 9/11 will never forget the massive wall of dust that roared down the streets when the Towers fell. There is a moment early in the movie that is very similar; the monster (who stays partially hidden at first) knocks over a building, sending dust and debris flying down the streets toward the camera.

New York City under attack

Unfortunately this also works against the movie. The first fifteen minutes took me a while to adjust; I was feeling a bit dizzy while trying to focus on the screen. Though some people may not be able to, by about 20 minutes or so I had adjusted and was used to the camera movements. And as stated earlier, nothing is explained in the movie. If you want answers, you’ll have to do some digging on the good ol’ Interweb. Or just go here and read the summary.

And though I don’t want to give any major spoilers away, I believe anyone reading this who plans on seeing the movie must know something: this movie will end abruptly and leave you hanging on purpose. This was designed to be like a roller coaster ride (sorry if that sounds cliche), going from one crazy drop to the other. There are some genuine, “Holy crap!” moments spread throughout, as well as some comedy courtesy of the movie’s cameraman, and Rob’s best friend, Hud. This is a great way to start the new year and to usher in what will hopefully be a great year for movies. Keep your expectations low, grab some friends (this movie is best watched with company), and enjoy the hour-and-a-half thrill ride that is Cloverfield.

8.5/10

Things I didn’t like about the movie:

1. The events take place over approximately a 7-hour period. What the hell kind of miniDV tape were they using? One of my friends mentioned earlier that it could have been a hard drive-based camera, maybe something flash based or solid-state. But seven hours? I doubt it.

2. People were saying the same thing about battery life. I have an 8-hour battery for my camera, so I’ll let this one slide as I can imagine a camera operating for 8 hours before a recharge. However, they were using the camera’s built-in light and infrared.

3. I’m going to assume that the camera used is a fairly new one (a model made within the past year). So why the hell is there no ‘handheld’ option? My 4-year-old Sony DCR-TRV33 has a ‘SteadyShot’ mode that reduces shakiness when holding the camera. Yes, I got used to the shaking, but it sucks for everyone that couldn’t.

One thing that surprised me:

The teaser for the new Star Trek film. I’m not a Trekkie, but I admire the series and was planning on watching the new movie when it came out. The teaser shows absolutely nothing of the movie itself, but was so well-done, I’m actually getting a bit excited.

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A haunting and emotional ghost story Fly away home…

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. UnCommon Sense » Blog Archive » Cloverfield Day  |  January 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    […] those of you looking for other great reviews & information on the Cloverfield movie, click here. Want clues to Cloverfield and it’s […]

    Reply
  • 2. MCHolden  |  January 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    The events take place over a 7 hour period. The entire 7 hours is not filmed. Like you said in the beginning of the review, it’s barely over 90 minutes. No problem for any handheld camcorder.

    Reply
  • 3. littleman00  |  January 21, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Yeah, I realized that after I posted. I figured Hud was turning the camera on and off. One thing I forgot to mention is how tough their camera was. It’s a small detail that doesn’t really impact the movie, but I was always thinking about how good the quality of video was when you consider the camera was being shot at, eaten, stepped on, etc. Actually, it’s kinda funny. And by the way, thanks for the comments!

    Reply
  • 4. MCHolden  |  January 23, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Yeah those are some pretty heavy duty cameras, I’ll give you that! Especially when it fell out of the monster’s mouth near the end and kept on ticking.

    I was reading some other reviews, and did you notice at the very end of the movie, after the bridge blows up and it cuts back to Josh and Beth at Coney Island or wherever… there is apparently something falling from the sky into the ocean? I guess that answers where it came from. I didn’t notice it when I went to go see it. I’m going back this weekend to check it out again just to catch that part. =) I loved this movie though. It had downsides but I thought it was original in many ways and was exactly what it was supposed to be, nothing more. Just a kickass monster movie that puts the viewer in the front seat to really soak up the terror and confusion of an event like that. Awesome.

    Reply

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