January 27th, 2008



Much to my own amazement, since I'm a cynical and jaded moviegoer who expects nothing but empty and disappointing trash from Hollywood, especially when it comes to science fiction and horror, I absolutely adored Cloverfield. I thought it was amazing. I loved how it gives us a ground-level view of what it's like when a giant monster attacks a city -- something my beloved Godzilla movies don't show. I also really liked the on-the-ground view of the military response -- the scenes with infantrymen and tanks on the streets of New York City were awesome. Honestly, I don't know how they made this movie for $25 million dollars unless it was shot entirely in front of green screens, like 300.

The shaky, first-person, hand-held camera POV was definitely wooze-inducing at times, especially during the party scenes at the beginning. However, I figured out that if you want to survive the wooze without Dramamine, all you have to do is make sure not to rest your head on the back of the seat. Keep your head up and supported entirely by your neck, and you'll be fine. I'm not entirely sure why that works (I suspect it has something to do with the brain's natural ability to even out the shakiness of our own natural vision), but it worked for me and might for you too.

In going to see Cloverfield, I thought I'd at least be in for a fun, if forgettable, romp. What I didn't expect was how intense the movie is. You can thank the first-person camera for that. It puts you right in the middle of the action in a way the usual objective POV in movies wouldn't. Without it, Cloverfield would be just another CGI monsterfest, fun but nothing special. Instead, it's the gimmick that makes the film work. That and the wonderful set pieces: the scenes on the Brooklyn bridge (so reminiscent of the blackout in 2003) and in the leaning apartment building were magnificent.

I liked the cast a lot, and indeed the whole look and feel of the movie, even if the monster is revealed to be the ridiculous CGI mishmash I so cynically expected it to be. Seriously, what was with those arms? How does a creature evolve to have long, floppy arms like that, useless for anything but smashing things like a lash? It didn't look like it could actually, you know, pick anything up. Or swim.

Though the most unrealistic thing about the movie is not the existence of a giant monster, it's an early twenty-something being made vice president of anything and shipped off to Japan to run a division. Please. He's at entry-level age. In the real world, he's getting coffee for the guy who's going to Japan. And the second most unrealistic thing? Also not the monster. It's a cell phone working in a New York City subway station. Anyone who lives here knows that's a fantasy. (Plus, the subway station itself will look patently false to anyone who lives here, or who has even visited.)

The movie does suffer from invulnerable hero syndrome on occasion. Our heroes get seriously beaten up and damaged -- like, seriously -- and keep running, including one event nobody would crawl away from. But you can't help forgiving such things while you're watching it because of that intense you-are-there feel. Even during the sillier moments of survival, I was on the edge of my seat.

A tip for those who haven't seen it yet: Keep your eyes peeled for a vital clue in that final shot of the Coney Island shore. I can't tell you what to look for, since that would spoil the fun, but stay focused on the horizon toward the right side of the screen. It's easy to miss, and I would have missed it myself if someone hadn't told me to look for it.