Cloverfield is the brainchild of producer J.J. Abrams, the man behind other cult-ish media like television's Lost and Alias. The exceptional first trailer established the simple premise. Something attacks New York City; chaos ensues. That preview combined with a well-executed buzz-inducing marketing strategy to create the rare eagerly anticipated January release.

What is Cloverfield? Much of the movie’s entertainment is derived from its mystery, so all you get is: something attacks New York city; chaos ensues. If you're worried about this being an I Am Legend retread, forget about that. In a way this is the opposite of I Am Legend. Much of that movie was a slow build, not so much about the action as the psychological side of isolation and determination; this is different. The first half hour is far too long and uninteresting as it introduces the main characters, a group of twenty-something yuppies at a going-away party in New York City. You could show up thirty minutes late and not miss a thing. Then a seismic event occurs, triggering mild panic that soon morphs into complete bedlam, and the fast-paced remainder of the movie unfolds in quasi-real time.

All of this so far may sound (and is) mildly interesting, but the selling point of Cloverfield is this: the movie is shot in the first person, as though from a personal camcorder. There are no wide shots, no big pictures to set the scene, and nothing to relate the scope of what might be happening. The camera is always held by one of the characters, unless it is momentarily dropped or set down. The movie even features cut-in portions of what was previously on the tape before the fateful day's events were recorded. The shaky picture often makes Bourne Supremacy look stable and provides only a partial view of the various occurrences, a clever technique that is both intriguing and annoying in its unconventionality. Though the idea is not completely novel (see: The Blair Witch Project), such an approach is unique enough to entertain on its own merit. It’s actually the best part of the movie, even though the lack of full information is often frustrating. Since the camera tracks the same people throughout the movie, the humanity should be a main hook. However none of the main characters are remotely interesting or sympathetic. Thus the human drama is disappointingly minimal, and the narrative power of the movie is almost non-existent, nowhere near the brilliant concept’s potential.

With its handheld camera and viral internet marketing strategy, Cloverfield is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on and connect with the YouTube generation. The approach fails in part because handheld shots work far better in a secondary or tertiary role. As the primary method of informing, such a process can be as bothersome as it is creative. With that aspect inconsistently entertaining and the catastrophe never entirely explained, the movie's momentum occasionally falters, forcing one to more deeply ponder what the heck is happening.

The anticipatory bar is set high enough that Cloverfield has very little chance of living up to the hype. But the problem is not the massive buildup, but that the movie itself is simply not very interesting beyond its excellent cinematographical gimmick and the big question of WHAT IS IT? Perhaps those who have absorbed themselves in the web chatter surrounding the movie will think otherwise.

Bottom Line: Cloverfield gets a borderline recommendation for the filmmaking experiment, but the story sinks otherwise. 5 of 10.

P.S. Rumors are that a sequel may be in store, with the intent of showing the entire debacle from a different person’s video camera, which would be another interesting experiment.

1 comment:

B. D. Mooneyham said...

Cari and I saw you again tonight, behind the North goal. What a game!

Were you there for 580 or the Journal?