CAPSULE: There have been dozens of Japanese films depicting giant monsters attacking large cities. CLOVERFIELD tries to show what such an event would be like more realistically. The results are violent and frankly unpleasant to watch, but deliver on what they promise: a realistic depiction of what it would be like if a giant monster really did attack Manhattan. The photography is jarring, but not as jarring as the realism. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1954 the Japanese Toho Studios made the first Gojira/Godzilla film GOJIRA. This was effectively a terrifying monster in large part because we saw the monster not from his eye level but from ours. Our viewpoint was as a human, not as another monster. Toho continued to make kaiju (or "giant monster") films but made them more romps shot from the monsters' eye level. They might follow individual characters but they might typically be newspaper reporters with comic sidekicks. They stopped trying for realism. Godzilla might grab a building and it would collapse under his strength. But it did limited damage. On September 11, 2001, the world discovered that urban destruction could be very dangerous and scary for bystanders. Until now nobody has really associated that sort of urban hell with what we had been seeing for years in monster movies. Godzilla movies after 1954 never associated the kind of destruction we saw on 9/11 with monsters in cities. And, of course, there was no real reason it should be taken seriously and realistically. The Square-Cube Law in physics says that any animal that is several building stories high would really have to be fairly weak and docile if it existed at all. Kaiju are creatures of fantasy. CLOVERFIELD asks what it would be like if there really were something like a Godzilla that attacked Manhattan but everything else in the film was realistic. What kind of destruction would such a beast do? What would it be like being a human getting little information as to what was happening and seeing the destruction from a distance until it advanced to engulf you?
There is not much to say about the plot of the film. Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David) is the guest of honor at a surprise party the night before he is flying to Japan to take a really nice job. Everybody at the party is waiting for the arrival of the lovely Beth who was Ron's girlfriend and one-night lover. The "one night lover" part is the big news at the party. Beth comes late to the party and leaves early. Then there is some sort of earthquake followed shortly by explosions in the distance. As people run into the street things really start to happen.
The movie is shot with very shaky photography from what is supposed to be an amateur hand-held camera. The entire film then is jerky and short. It had to be short enough to fit on one camera cassette. The film is supposed to all be what was on the one tape. The jerky style and apparent in-camera edits give the film more of a feeling of immediacy and realism, not unlike what was done with the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The film itself is only 73 minutes long, not counting twelve minutes of credits at the end. Going into the movie that seemed a little short for a feature film. But the action and violence are so intense and so immediate that one is really looking forward to it to end. The party footage at the beginning is really a little dull, like the ride up the first ramp on a roller coaster. When the film finally does let go it is one heck of a ride. Those who look to Kaiju film for fun and action may well find the action but not the fun. The film suggests that being near a giant monster attack is much like being near a terrorist attack. There is panic and confusion and people dying. There is a struggle to stay alive that has no guarantee of success. There is little idea of what is going on and less of what to do to survive. The monster itself is seen only in quick snatches.
The long credit sequence at the end credits a very large number of songs. But I remember no music from the point the camera leaves the party to when the end credits roll. The music under the end credits is original but seems to borrow some musical effects from the scores of Toho monster films, which was probably the inspiration for much of the end theme. With no familiar actors and the inexpensive shooting style the film came in for a reported 25 million dollars. It only proves that writing and ideas can do more for a film than special effects can. Matt Reeves directed the film from a screenplay by Drew Goddard. The producer is J.J. Abrams, the creator of TV shows "Felicity" and "Lost". My showing also featured a trailer for the eleventh "Star Trek" movie to be directed by the self-same J.J. Abrams.
The innocuous-sounding title of CLOVERFIELD seems an exercise in reverse psychology or at least irony. The pleasant sound suggests that the film will be anything but pleasant. And on that reverse promise the film does deliver. I would rate CLOVERFIELD a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1060277/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper