Theatrical Review: Cloverfield

Right off the bat, it’s immediately shown that what you’re about to see in front of you is video tape footage of one of the more personal instances involved in New York City around a military operation that has been named Cloverfield. As this personal video unravels, we’re shown how a young man, Jason Hawkins and his girlfriend, Lily are planning a going away party for Jason’s brother, Rob, who is about to begin a new job a a vice-president for a Japanese company. At the party, Jason convinces their best friend, Hud, to run the camera and get testimonials to Rob from all of the people at the party, and in the midst, personal situations for both Rob and Hud come up… all being eclipsed when what feels like a massive earthquake hits. Everyone runs to the rooftop to further see what’s happening, and the next thing they see is a building exploding and all hell breaking loose around them, as it’s revealed that some giant monster is attacking the city. The rest of the video following details the attempts of these young people to escape the city safely.

And so goes the premise of Cloverfield, easily one of the most anticipated movies of early 2008, from director Matt Reeves, writer Drew Stoddard and producer J.J. Abrams. I’ve read a recent interview with one of the young stars of the film, who basically called Cloverfield a Godzilla for the YouTube generation” and he ain’t wrong about that, it most certainly is that, and it’s also a whole lot of big fun.

The whole film is shot (or at least given the appearance of) from a hand held digital video camera and it carries a whole lot of big sweeping, clumsy motion to it a la The Blair Witch Project and right off the bat, I already now going into this that it will be a major turn-off for a lot of viewers. There will be some who just will probably get a little motion-sick from it, and others who just won’t like it because the like their action in movies to be shot much more straightforward and steady. Personally, I like this style of film making my own self as it always adds a lot more immediacy to the action, and when it’s done really well, there’s never any loss of what’s going on on-screen. In Cloverfield though, it’s intended to look sloppy and it should just to convey the chaos of what happens, and sticking with how it’s been described above, for anyone who’s ever seen a YouTube video, it’s right in line with that.

To me, this is just tremendous stuff, and with the exception of it’s slower set-up (though it’s not exactly that slow considering the film is under 90 minutes long), all of the action, everything you need to know, is totally up there on the screen. And when it’s melded with the visual effects, it just really looks spectacular.

I don’t know any of the young cast of the film, though they all do a good job of playing know-it-all blase twentysomethings- exactly who the film is mainly targeting. There’s a point where I thought one of the characters, that of Hud, who’s mostly holding the camera all through this, was just a little too much on the comedic/stupid side, until I realized after the fact that Hud, more than any other character, is the audience’s gateway character into the film and the things that he’s saying are just the kind of things that you’d almost expect someone to say, say when over dramatically commentating on this on a message board or something like that. And then, that’s when you know that they totally got this right by making a “Godzilla for the YouTube generation.” So with that said, I totally have to give the young cast high marks for what they’ve done here.

The other thing that I really liked with the film and it erased any sort of misgivings that I had about some of the stupid things said by the cast was the film’s ending. Just the sheer ballsiness of ending the film the way Reeves and company has done, is the sort of thing that I like to see more of in films like this, and that again will probably be a huge turn-off for some viewers who like something like this to end in a more traditional way.

And finally, huge kudos for the design of the monster and it’s after effects (you’ll get that once you see it), it’s a terrific design and genuinely terrifying, and there again will be yet another turn-off for a segment of the audience, just the fact that the movie is dealing with some sort of Godzilla-esque type of monster.

As we were getting ready to go in to the theatre, and the previous audience was coming out, indeed two twentysomethings came out talking about how much it sucked and how they were waiting for the movie to get good, and it was just so typical. I would’ve loved to have found out why they thought what they did about it, because honestly, except for the three things that I pointed out above, if you know what you’re going into with this, then really unless you’re expecting this film to change the world in front of you, you should have a good time with it.

I know I did, and right now all I’m hoping for is just that Paramount releases this on HD-DVD before the bottom falls out of that market, just so I can get it for home viewing with my chosen high-def format. I think Cloverfield is just tremendous work and a lot of fun for a genre film fan- highly, highly recommended, especially if you’ve got the chance to see it in digital projection like I did.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

24. January 2008 by Darren Goodhart
Categories: Text Reviews, Theatrical Review | Leave a comment

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