Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cloverfield and the New York State of Mind

With Cloverfield but a day away, a whiny internet casts its eyes on the advance reviews of the film. Various reps from the likes of aicn and chud have checked in with very positive things to say, Jeffrey Wells seemed pleased and Dave Poland could care less. But all this is irrelevant in face of the most important viewer of all in regards to the film's overall success, the non-internet savvy population. The films mysterious nature (Was it a Godzilla film? Alien invasion? Cthulu? Irwin Allen homage? Rampaging Elaine Stritch?) baffled movie and genre geeks for months ONLINE and has whipped up a mighty frenzy, but is the public at large aware of this movie? My guess is no.

The fact of the matter remains that viral marketing campaigning only gets you so far. Wasn't Snakes on a Plane supposed to be huge (it certainly was in the theater I watched it in on opening day but the box office doesn't quite match up)? Same exact story goes for Grindhouse. Both those films had huge internet buzz and both belly flopped. You have to tap all your bases for a film like this and that means posters, TV ads, the talk show circuit etc. I don't see any reason why a quality monster movie can't do well, especially in a dry month like January but you have to get the word out there. With no stars and no look at the monster, joe schmoe has no idea what they're looking at when they see an ad for this movie. JJ Abrams has clout but for a lot of people you have to qualify his name with "the creator of Lost and Alias." I'll admit that I'm starting to see a lot more ads for the film on TV but they're kind of non-descriptive and forgettable if you haven't been informed ahead of time what you're looking at. "See, see!" I shout at my roommates "You can kind of see it walking past that building" or "If you study the frame carefully you can see that girl explode." They remain unmoved. It's the kind of teaser you need to be able to slow-down or pause to appreciate but for good or ill ads on TV exist to be fast forwarded through these days. I've asked many of my non-movie geek friends if they're excited about this film and I've been greeted with blank stares. Uh oh. I rebutt with "haven't you seen the posters with the Statue of Liberty" (in Manhattan they're damn near ubiquitous) and an answer I've now gotten back several times from multiple people was "Oh, I thought that was for I Am Legend" Hmmmm. Having a completely non-descriptive title like Cloverfield is probably not helping the matter. Is that the name of the company putting this headless Statue of Liberty movie out?

One other problem to consider and that is that the advertising showcases a wrecked New York and panicky New Yorkers. Now I am all for using films to get us to evaluate current events or help us process tragedy. I am NOT one of those "too soon" people. War of the Worlds did just fine evoking 9/11 imagery and a deserted New York certainly didn't put off anyone from seeing I Am Legend. But this is a horse of a different color. War of the Worlds did not feature scenes in Manhattan and the buildings remain intact in I Am Legend. This is a movie that specifically shows Manhattan; its infrastructure and citizenry, being menaced by something unseen and terrifying. While I certainly don't mind looking at that kind of very relevant fear through a genre based lens, will my fellow NYCers be as forgiving? As I walked past the Cloverfield poster at my work subway station noticed scrawled across it were the words "Why are you doing this?" It's rare when you get graffiti with proper spelling and punctuation, so I have to believe that this person is clearly troubled by what this film is evoking just from the poster. We're six plus years past 9/11 and while New York citizens still have every right to be upset and anxious about it, I personally don't think a movie is anything to get upset about. Still, it could be a cause for ticket buyers staying away.

Ultimately I won't lose any sleep over the success or failure of Cloverfield. I'd just like it to be a quality genre film. Matt Reeves has plenty of experience directing episodic TV but this is a different animal all together. Drew Goddard has penned some of my favorite episodes of Buffy and Angel (and some decent eps of Lost) but he has only two hours to establish these characters and make us invest in them. Can he do it? Can this film shows us something we've never seen before or it will be a frustrating, nausea inducing let down. Right now I'm approaching with low pulse, guarded optimism, but you can be rest assured I will be there opening night.

1 comment:

Wunder said...

In reality I know I'll see Cloverfield for one of two reasons:
1) I'm curious. I cannot resist movies that tease as well as this one does (like a particularly insightful Counselor Troy, you know, you love it) and
2) It's JJ Abrams. I dont' watch Lost or Alias, but I did love (more than most people) Mission: Impossible 3 and therefore he has earned my $11 this time around.