Tuesday, January 22, 2008

That's Our Clovie

Cloverfield, as I mentioned in my brief posting about the film, is not the world breaking, genre shattering, experiment that the hype would eave you to believe, nor is it a total wash. Shot in a rough documentary style (think Blair Witch meets Godzilla, yes I know I am far from the first one to make this comparison), Cloverfield does come at this sort of material in a new and potentially exciting way. I know I have certainly not been this eager to see the monster in a film for a long time and director Matthew Reeves knows how to tease just well enough that you keep tense, while at the same time satisfying the eager lookee-loos who are eager to look at this intriguingly designed beastie.

As is sometimes the case in monster films the creature is the most interesting thing going for it. This one certainly has a solid eye for Manhattan real-estate, goes right to Columbus Circle (good central-location) and he seems to have a real affinity for tracking down self-obsessed hipster douchebags. And thank goodness because while there are certainly some intriguing and exciting sequences I found myself hardly caring whether these characters lived or died. The problem stems from a bi-product of being roughly an hour and a half long. We don’t really get a chance to develop the characters. Though I doubt that even freed of the short running time we’d even want to. The central conflict here is the lead character Rob trying to get to his would-be girlfriend Beth who is trapped in her wrecked Columbus Circle apartment. While it certainly makes sense for Rob to go after Beth (their relationship is rather cleverly revealed by the fact that the main part of the film is actually being “taped” over a Coney Island outing between the pair) the problem is why on Earth wouldn’t the other characters evacuate the city. There isn’t enough character to really support a romance and survival is a more than adequate motivator in a film like this. Sill the film is willing to play fast and loose with its characters, which I would appreciate the novelty of if I was invested in a single one of them.

Seeing Cloverfield midnight on Thursday was definitely the way to go, the crowd was very excited and even having to watch half the trailers TWICE didn’t deter the energy in the room (though it did lead to some very inventive swearing-I love ya NY). People gasped and yelped in all the right places and it made for a fun time and contrary to other reports of screenings no one yelled “that’s it?” at the end. I certainly didn’t feel deprived of a solid look at the monster (who has the tenacity of the shark in Jaws: The Revenge when it comes to tracking down the film’s protagonists) and I appreciated the increasingly fatalistic tone as the film moved on. Lots of horrors stem out of national concerns (Godzilla came from the Japanese fear of nuclear fall-out, Gort is a creation of the Cold War) and “Clovie” (yeah that’s what I’m going to call him) is definitely a by-product of 9/11 anxiety; the thought of being helpless and unaware in the face of disaster. The film certainly has ample opportunity to say more but the most we get in terms of commentary is a brief moment once Lady Liberty’s head flies off into Manhattan and mere seconds after the dust has cleared people are taking digital pictures with their cameras and cell-phones. It’s admittedly a light moment and an intriguing one, but that’s about as far as the film goes in terms of depth about commenting on the state of modern affairs. Otherwise it’s just a lot of running and screaming and frustration. This is not a bad thing per se but it prevents the movie from reaching its full potential. This format is capable of telling a lot, I just wish there were more dynamic characters with more provocative things to say about what’s going on. Clovie is fun though and the film has buckets of atmosphere. I say this good for at least one rowdy screening and if I never see it again, oh well.

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