Review: Cloverfield

Posted by Peter Hall - January 19th 2008 @ 9:20 am

Directed by Matt Reeves, 2007
Written by Drew Goddard

Cloverfield Poster

The bittersweet truth of Cloverfield is that the fans were right and the filmmakers were wrong half-right. With the materialization of a vague teaser trailer before Transformers, JJ Abrams opened the gates to an empty amusement park and proceeded to tell no one what they were allowed to ride. Fans ate it up, the tubes became downright clogged with predictions and conspiracies and hopes and Cthulhu(s) and wishes and deep sea dwellers and lies and nothing. Plots were concocted, tested, debunked, and reformed again. All without zero confirmation from Paramount or JJ Abrams. All part of the marketing war machine.

The bittersweet part? JJ Abrams and Drew Goodard lacked the foresight to see that the vague theories materialized by the fans were better than their own. There is, without question, a tremendous story at the summit of Cloverfield. Abrams, Goodard and Reeves just couldn’t dream that high. The end result is blind date film making. Cloverfield is like two strangers set to meet at the party of a mutual friend. After spending 10 minutes together, the two realize the other isn’t what they expected and wander off. Thirty minutes later they can be seen standing on the opposite side of a now larger party. Unable to have hooked up with anyone else they try to yell over the confusion, try to establish some kind of meaningful communication.

They don’t. They communicate, but only in the same way that a duo communicates during a one night stand. There are pleasure zones to be reached, but Cloverfield is drunk and fumbling with bra clasps and zippers. The day after we, the collective we, will tell all our friends about it. And Cloverfield will go tell all its analyst friends. It’ll be a topic of conversation for the immediate future, but in a few months? A year? Two? Like a one night stand, the whole ordeal will be nothing but a faded memory.

At least it won’t be a punch line.

At least Cloverfield sobers up enough to stop fumbling and get some genuine game on. The monster is, in most respects, nothing mind bending, but still very, very badass. It is building sized, it is a monster and it does wreck the hell out of New York City. Good deal.

The shaky cam angle, however, is not a good deal. Let this be the death of the shaky cam. From a business point of view, the camcorder idea is a brilliant one. “You mean we get to make a monster movie for a tiny fraction of a blockbuster? We don’t even have to pay mainstream actors? I’ll buy that for a dollar!” From an audience point of view, it is nothing but frustrating. I very, very much so appreciate the moments in which we are, by proxy, given the clarity to see the destruction and mayhem. These moments are few and far between though. The ratio of wishing the camera was pointed somewhere else to times in which it is perfectly placed is about 13:1. At least the sound department is relentless.

There has been an interesting revelation since climbing out of the bed with Cloverfield: I had a lot of fun last night. It was exciting during its most passionate bouts, but the whole experience was too muddled at the time to be fully appraised. The morning after has bestowed hindsight on the whole shebang and I have far fewer complaints than expected. I don’t think I am going to be the only one, either. If someone told you that it sucked, that it wasn’t what they thought it would be, do not let that dissuade you. It might have had a headache while it was throwing down, but that is one of the conflicts inherent to the act of, well, throwing down.  And Cloverfield can throw the fuck down when it wants to.

Abrams, Reeves and Goddard found a great story, after all. I will not go into spoiler territory, but if one were to itemize the events of Cloverfield…man, a lot of crazy happened. Did they find the best way to tell the story?  From a budget stand point, yes.  From a cinematic stand point, hell no.  All the same, I’m willing to call up Cloverfield later.  Maybe even holla, if you will. And it won’t be a drunk dial. I genuinely want to hang out with those long legs and deep, monstrous throat again.


rss 9 comments
  1. January 19th, 2008 | 12:28 pm | #1

    Did Peter just hit on a monster? I think he did.

    Anyway, good point on the fan rumors, though I think we need to cut Reeves/Goddard/Abrams some slack, if only because it’s a lot easier to dream up random stuff than it is to actually make it work on screen. The ideas may sound cooler, but I’m not entirely convinced they would have been. A lot can happen between the page and the screen.

    I do agree, however, that the marketing had a dubious downside in that it invited all sorts of wild speculation that was bound to set the bar far too high for the film to jump.

    I still loved it, however. And I’m the Northeast Regional President of the “I Hate Shakycam” Association.

  2. Ripp
    January 19th, 2008 | 1:07 pm | #2

    I think I liked it even more when the credits rolled and about 90% of the people in the theater went “What? That’s it? That movie sucked.” Just because of the way they ended it. LOL @ stupid people.

  3. January 19th, 2008 | 1:36 pm | #3

    Same here. Credits hit and I thought, “Meh, Not Bad…” Then the theater erupted in those same cries of, “That Movie BLEW!” and I just started thinking, “It wasn’t that bad…” And then I started defending it more, when 45 seconds earlier I was resigned to it just being alright.

    And then some schmuck in a red shirt kept talking so loudly to his unimpressed date about just how bad it was all the way out to the parking lot. At which point Christine, once again, reminded me how full of hate I am, so I ceased calling the guy a douchebag.

    But he was.

  4. January 19th, 2008 | 1:54 pm | #4

    Ha; I had the exact same thing happen in my theater. There was a fairly elderly couple in the row behind us, actually (one of them was crinkling a bag so much they must have eaten every last kernal of popcorn), that complained audibly when the movie ended. I love how people instananeously hate something when it isn’t what they expected.

  5. crackerjunx
    January 20th, 2008 | 10:23 am | #5

    let me say that i didnt read anything about this movie going into it. none of said speculation or predictions. i saw only the same trailer repeatedly and at the end, having endured stupid high school should-have-been-knuckle-children, i still loved it. the entire ride. it washed away all the californication of movies today. i loved the fact that we just dont know whats happening. i love the cast. the realism of the romantics. if asked. would i go back? yes. there is one person i would go back for. thats the humanity of this movie. it made it real for me. it was terrifying and had me pent up from the first rumble. the reality of the monster movie is that it just is what it is. godzilla was ridiculous and weepingly boring. and had terrible casting. this group of fresh faced adults, and i cant remember the last good movie i saw where no one looked like a child, made it real. it felt real. the bridge coming down. the roof top. the helicopter. and the story arc that had motion and emotion even without words. it was genius. we are so used to being spoonfed every idea. every small piece of information. every concept beyond our own reality. this movie demands you be semi intelligent enough to keep up and pay attention and adapt to the clusterfuck of chaotica. and anyone who didnt realize they began the movie already on the boat heading down the river styx must have been a part of the no child left behind program. and im sorry that happened. because the title itself warns you, at least in my opinion. i thought this movie was one of the best theater experiences ive ever had. besides the waste of oxygen poorly raised forever virgins children who sat behind me. may a large bug crawl into you nose and eat your face off while you sleep. honestly this redefines monster movies for me.

  6. Sean
    January 20th, 2008 | 10:26 pm | #6

    I have to say I was kind of disappointed, because I was thinking it was a Godzilla movie until nearly the end.

    Jokes aside, I really didnt like the camera. It made me ill at times, and I’ve never had a bought of being sick in a movie, or even in the G-Force Accelerator. The spinning around was too much for me though. I cursed aloud (to the horror of 2 children sitting in front of me) when the bridge went out, because I couldnt see anything!

    The other thing that really irritated me about cloverfield, is where the monster apparently eats people, but the bodies are still there.

    That makes sense, right? Giant monster, but the bodies…still stay there.

  7. brandon
    January 20th, 2008 | 10:42 pm | #7

    Fine piece of writing there Peter, I too enjoyed this film, but that enjoyment grew after hearing the same complaints from my audience as well. I didn’t call the old man in front of me a douche bag, but I did kind of feel sorry for him and for the rest of the people in that theater as well. I felt sorry for them because the whole point of going to a movie is to be entertained. Which cloverfield can definitely accomplish if given the chance. Instead they left upset or disappointed because “no one saved the day” or because “everyone died”. I’ll be interested to see how this does after it’s 2nd week of release, hopefully if it continues to do well people will realize not all good stories have to have a happy ending.

  8. R.J. Sayer
    January 25th, 2008 | 9:51 pm | #8

    agree with the review.

    dead on, man. dead fucking on.

    however, unlike everybody else, i find myself disliking the film as time moves on.

    but maybe that’s just because most of the people i talked to actually liked it, and feel the need to defend it.

    but with every waking second, i want to punch the whole bad robot crew in the face more than i did the second before.

    one of the key problems: they were so focused on building a mythology – a marketing plan – that they forgot to build the fucking monster.

  9. June 20th, 2008 | 8:50 am | #9

    Finally saw this one, and was really impressed!

    I didn’t know anything about it going in, except that the Statue of Liberty bought it. (See kids? The Internet should be used in moderation. It spoiled half of Peter’s review!)

    Loved the camera work, even after I missed the first shot of the monster. Then the cast decides to REWIND THE TAPE to check out what I missed and leave me hanging? Awesome idea. Made me really anxious for the next glimpse I could get, and more vigilant in my viewing.

    (Gimme a break about the budget though. I’m an audience member, not the studio’s accountant. What do I care?)

    Thought the ending was perfect, save for the final shots of the monster. Keep that damned monster confined to the shadows and jumpy cuts, damnit! I hate having shit spelled out for me when there’s no reason to do so. It’s a fucking epidemic these days that needs to be stopped. (Right on, crackerjunx.)

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