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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cloverfield review (2008)

When Transformers premiered in theatres in July of 2007, movie-goers got a surprise with the debut of a new movie trailer. It started off with footage of a surprise party for a man named Rob, who has just taken a job in Japan. But as time passes, the lights go out and the earth trembles, as a nightmarish howl pierces through the night. The confused and frightened party-goers do what comes naturally in this situation; head to the rooftop of the building to see just what’s going on. The man behind the camera comments to Rob that he probably should have left earlier, just as a huge explosion emanates from the harbour, sending flaming debris falling onto the buildings. Rob and company then run to the streets below just in time to run for cover as a large metal object crashes into a building, then drops to the streets below as the panicked people run for their lives. The large metal object is the head of the Statue of Liberty.

The film remained untitled for much of 2007 aside from being referred to by the premiere date, 1-18-08. It was confirmed to be a giant monster movie, with a brand new behemoth rampaging through New York, and that the story would be told from the perspective of a digital camera, a la Blair Witch. The film producer was J.J. Abrams, most known for television series such as Lost and Felicity. At the Comic-Con, J.J. premiered the trailer to the crowd, and stated that when he visited Japan during filming of Mission Impossible III, he had taken his son to a toy store and had noticed all of the Godzilla memorabilia. He had thought to himself even after fifty years, Godzilla was still a national icon and that the United States did not have its own equal to Godzilla. (What about that tuna-eater from 1998?)

This was quite a risk on the part of Paramount. In this day and age where every other movie being either a sequel, remake or based on an existing property, Paramount gave the go-ahead for a original concept that had a lot going against it. No recognizable names, aside from J.J., plus the lack of success for monster movies in general. However, when the first trailer hit YouTube, I can imagine J.J. was quite pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response, because the Internet pretty much went crazy-go-nuts trying to find out as much as they could about 1-18-08.

In an era where you can download everything conceivable, for the first time we were presented with something about which we had no knowledge. This film was pretty much speculated to be everything fanboys could come up with, from being a new Godzilla film, an H.P. Lovecraft inspired film, even a Voltron film. (I must have missed that episode where Voltron turned evil, learns to roar and attacks New York.)

From July of 2007 onwards, a viral marketing campaign promoted the film. Viral marketing, in simplest terms, is word-of-mouth, only on the Internet. The viral campaign started with, a website of simply photographs taken from different times during the film. Other websites included Slusho!, a soft drink subsidiary of fictional Japanese oil company Tagruato,  T.I.D.O.Wave, a pseudo-GreenPeace organization bent on stopping Tagruato’s efforts, and, a video weblog maintained by a minor character of the movie. Now why did I regale you with all this tripe? Well, until November came and we got the second trailer, premiering before Beowulf, this was all that was known about the film. The second trailer, needless to say, started to fit the puzzle pieces together.

The film was finally titled; Cloverfield. And I might also mentioned that just before the movie premiered, the viral released one final video, an oil rig being pulled under the water.

January 18th, 2008 finally came. No more speculation. No more theories. No more pie charts. Just movie time!

Cloverfield starts off with no music. No title sequence. No credits. Just a notification of declassification from the United States government and that this footage was found in what was formerly Central Park.

We first see Rob and Beth alone in an apartment, talking about going to Coney Island for the day. (The film switches between what happened at Coney and what happened during the monster’s attack.  This story takes place on two separate dates. The time Rob and Beth spent together takes place in April. The night of Ragnarok takes place in May.) The movie skips ahead as we see Jason, Rob’s elder brother, following Lily, his girlfriend, to the grocery store as they are preparing supplies for Rob’s going away party. Rob has just recently gained employment and is heading to a new life in Japan. Jason had been tasked in recording testimonials from all of Rob’s friends, to give to him later as a gift. Jason instead hands the camera over to Hud, Rob’s best friend. Amusing how they gave the camera to the slowest runner. Hud tries to use the camera to flirt with Marlena, the last of the main characters introduced.

Beth finally arrives at the party, with a date.  So now we are treated to something that seems more like The Hills. Rob and Beth argue about Rob not having called her for a month and now is leaving seemingly for good. Rob realises that the camera that Hud is recording with is his camera and that it is recording over the footage Rob had taken with Beth during their date to Coney Island. After much arguing, Beth and her date abruptly leave the party. As time goes on, Lily admits in private that Rob and Beth had spent a night together and Rob hadn`t spoke to her until now. Hud, the genius, is shocked so much, he ends up telling literally everybody else at the party.  Jason eventually sits his little brother down and tries to straighten him out. He tells Rob to look after what’s important in life.  The lights go out. The earth shakes. Something has arrived!

The partygoers are scared witless. They turn the news on to see that an oil tanker has crashed in Lower Manhattan. Everybody goes to the roof, just in time to see the tanker explode and send debris in every direction. They run down to the street just in time to see the Statue of Liberty’s head crash onto the streets. Hud picks up a glimpse of something gigantic on the camera as a building is destroyed in a scene that’s a little too familiar. The characters take shelter in a convenience store, and when they survey the damage, they find New York looking like something out of a warzone. They find Marlena covered in dirt, shell-shocked from the sight of the beast eating people. (At this point I can’t help but wonder one thing. It’s a horror movie, right? Why not show the monster doing something horrible?!?)

At this point, Jason speaks out and states that everybody needs to leave New York and follow the evacuees to safety. I found this interesting that despite how Jason was first presented, he seemed ready to take the leadership role. The people find their way to the Brooklyn Bridge where Rob is called by Beth on his cell phone. She’s trapped in her apartment and can’t move. Lily, Marlena, and Hud stop to see what’s wrong. Jason is farther ahead than they are, and is killed when Clover’s tail comes down on the bridge, breaking it in half and sending people flying into the water below.

The survivors return to dry land, grieving the loss of Jason. Rob is silent as he enters an electronics store. The looters are just fixated at the television screens, as news reports show dog-sized spider crab creatures falling off of the monster’s carapace. Rob steals a cell phone battery to contact Beth again, as Hud notices that military vehicles are driving by and that the television footage of the monster is being taken from down the street.

Rob has determined he will save Beth, his brother’s last words before the chaos still racing through his mind. He exclaims he will go alone but the others, somewhat begrudgingly, agree to come with him. Their odyssey lands them caught in the middle of the military’s attempt at subduing the beast. They escape into the subway but not before Hud captures a good look at Clover’s face. (Remember its face, because for the next fifty minutes, Clover is not shown on camera. I realised Clover wouldn’t  be the focal point of the story, despite being the major selling point of the film, but you’d think that they’d have given the monster more to do than thrown a fast ball and break stuff.)

In the subway, Rob is called by his mother, leading to an emotional scene. He intends on travelling the subway lines to get to Beth’s apartment quicker. (Dark tunnels in a monster movie. Gee, nothing wrong in that scenario?!?) When the group starts to hear chirping sounds, Hud turns on the night vision on the camera, and sees numerous eyes glowing back at them. As they run for their lives, Hud is tackled by one of the Parasites. Marlena fights it off but is bitten by another of them. They are able to escape them and decide not to travel the subway again. After Marlena’s wounds are tended to as best they can, their travels find them in a shopping mall commandeered by the military as a tactical base. That’s when Marlena starts to bleed from her eyes and mouth. The officers forcibly take her to quarantine, as Rob and company are escorted away, Hud catches on the camera Marlena’s silhouette behind a curtain, expanding and exploding before the men in the hazmat suits can help her.

One of the soldiers tells Rob, Lily and Hud the quickest way to get to Beth’s apartment and that by 6:00, the military is planning to use their trump card to stop Clover and the Parasites; nukes. Upon finding Beth’s apartment, they notice one major complication. The building isn’t broken so much as it’s bent! And guess which floor Beth lives on? That’s right, the top floor. After rescuing Beth, they realise that the large scale aggressor is getting closer.

They make a mad dash for the helicopters to escape, while the battle between man and fish-lizard-monkey-dragon-thingie rages on. Lily is put on the first helicopter, as Rob, Beth and Hud are on the second. Hud records the monster being hit with bombs and seemingly killed.
(If you watched Dragon Ball Z on a regular basis, you probably know you never cheer for the villain’s death before the dust clears!)

Clover rages out of the dust cloud, head butting the helicopter to the ground. As the injured trio try to escape, Hud goes to get the camera. A terminal mistake on his part, as he comes face-to-face with Clover...then tooth to face.

Rob and Beth take the camera and hide under a bridge as a last resort. They give their last testimonials and profess their mutual love as the bridge collapses on top of them. The last few minutes of their Coney Island date ends the film.

While I can’t say Cloverfield was a bad film, I can’t say it was a good one either. For all the time and effort put into the viral marketing to promote this film, it turns out to be just okay.  But it wasn’t supposed to have been just okay! This was supposed to have been an event! A generation-defining moment! The fact of the matter is that if it wasn’t for the viral marketing, odds are no one would have gone out to see this film, aside from monster movie junkies.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that this film has its merits. It’s a monster movie that goes against the grain. But at the end of the day, it’s still a monster movie. None of the aspects of the viral marketing played any role in the film whatsoever. All of the good ideas that we were presented with going into Cloverfield were just touched upon.

J.J. Abram, when speaking about his film, has said that because of the time we live in, with such fear and doubt, we never know when or if something will happen. So this film is taking that fear and presenting it to us in this format. And? Is that all J.J.??? I can’t seem to figure out what message J.J. and company were trying to convey. I keep hearing Cloverfield being billed as the “monster movie for the MySpace and YouTube generation.” And??? Shouldn’t the bar be set just a wee bit higher than that?

The most disappointing aspect of the movie, for me, was Clover itself. Godzilla, in his first movie, was a conqueror. He wasn’t trying to save Earth, he wasn’t trying to help a kid overcome a bully and he certainly wasn’t playing b-ball against Barkeley. He was a prehistoric colossus resurrected from atomic energy. Godzilla was Japan’s way of dealing with the aftermath of the a-bomb, in a frightening and probably inappropriate way. So I guess, in turn, Clover is an physical allegory for 9/11, and the ever looming threats we are dealing with today, in a frightening and probably inappropriate way.

But while you at least got the feeling of Godzilla’s genuine threat to the world, Clover on the other hand seems more like a three-hundred foot lost puppy whimpering and lashing out at all these tiny little ants shooting missiles at him. My imagination produced a far more terrifying leviathan when I imagined Clover`s form. The Parasites had more presence!

Ultimately, Cloverfield falls under its own weight, and the fact that the film’s conclusion was left open-ended didn’t win it any checks in my good book. Regardless, I probably still would have watched this film if I had 2008 to do over.

Whether you loved it or hated it, you won’t forget it, and at the end of the day, that’s the most any filmmaker can hope for, even if people don’t remember it for the reasons they’d hoped for.

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