In 1997 I was at work fixing some guys computer and noticed he had a copy of a flyer for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) film schedule. Glancing through it I saw that later that day the DIA was showing, for one night only, ‘Gamera: Guardian of the Universe’. For lack of a better word, I almost peed on myself. We’re talking Gamera here folks, my all-time favorite monster as a kid. And now there’s a NEW Gamera film straight out of Japan, and nobody saw fit to inform me of this? I call the wife and tell her we’re going out. Usually our evenings consisted of keeping the 18-month old amused, but it’s time to find a sitter and enjoy some new age monster movie goodness. I was under the assumption that the Japanese had pretty much stopped making monster movies after ‘Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla’ back in 1970- whatever, but no, the Japanese never stopped making monster movies, we just stopped getting them. You see I love monster movies. The Korean masterpiece ‘The Host’ was on my top ten list for 2006, not because it was a monster movie but because it was a great monster movie. I fully expect ‘Cloverfield’ to be on that list when 2008 comes to a close as it was also a GREAT monster movie. If there a ten movies better than ‘Cloverfield’ when 2008 closes up shop, then it will go down in history as the best year for movies ever.
Lily (Jessica Lucas) is
planning a going away party for Rob (Michael
Stahl-David) who is
leaving New York and heading off to Japan for a job. Rob
is the brother
of Lily’s fiancé Jason whose only task on this evening
walk around with the video camera and record going away
Rob’s friends at the party. Knowing full well that
holding a drink in
one hand a camcorder in the other is no way to spend an
palms this thankless task onto Rob’s best friend Hud
Miller) who dutifully handles the job to the best of his
know all of this, as you can probably tell by now,
because we see
everything in the film is through the eye of this roaming, shaky
camera. Also, Jason has carelessly taped over a tape Rob had made with an evening and an afternoon he spent with Beth (Odette Yusman) which we see in various cuts in between Hud’s starts and stops of the camera. It turns out that Rob and Beth are best buds that spent a night of passion together, but confused about the new direction their relationship was taking didn’t pursue it any further than that. This all comes to head when Beth shows up at the party with a date which irks Rob to no end. Right about now I’m thinking if I wanted to watch an episode of ‘The O.C.’ I would have just stayed home.
Thinks take turn for the better, for me at least – but not for our cast of pretty twenty somethings, when what feels like an earthquake hits Manhattan. Our crew go to check it out on the roof of the apartment, but it ain’t no earthquake. So when fire starts to rain down from the sky and destroy the surrounding buildings, including the Statue of Liberty, it’s time to move out. As far as anyone can tell it looks, unbelievably, that a Godzilla sized monster has appeared from heaven only knows where, and is aimlessly destroying buildings and eating people. Worse still is that this creature is dropping these weird looking, super aggressive 8-legged parasites from its body that are cleaning off whatever humans this monster misses. And you really don’t want one of these things to bite you if you can help it. The best course of action is to get out of the city but Rob has gotten a distress call from Beth who he has determined he MUST save, despite the fact the Beth is back at Monster Ground Zero. Not wanting their friend to travel this perilous road alone, our heroes, with camera in tow to document this historically horrific event, navigate through the U.S. Military and a gaggle of parasitic mini monsters to hopefully save the fair maiden.
First thing I need to do is get me one of those super long lasting tri-lithium heavy duty bullet proof batteries that those kids had in that camcorder. My camcorder battery lasts about fourteen minutes. That aside, one of the complaints you hear concerning ‘Cloverfield’ is about the perspective of the handheld camera that is used throughout, and it’s a valid one because I will admit it took some getting used to at first. But after viewing the film, I don’t know if it would have been as nearly as effective if it had been shot in the traditional way. The first person perspective infused a sense of urgency and immediateness to nearly every frame of the movie and it heightened the chaos and uncertainty to darn near unbearable levels.
The hand held camera gave you only glimpses of what was happening, leaving one to imagine the horror beyond the camera as opposed to giving us a complete reveal, though we do get a clear shot of the creature near the end. It also quickens the pace of the film because once the action starts it is unrelenting. Where a movie like this succeeds, in contrast to the 1998 ‘Godzilla’ remake which was a miserable failure, is that writer Drew Goodard and director Matthew Reeves realized that an audience needn’t have a complete knowledge of a monster and it’s origins for the creature to be effective. Why was this monster doing what it was doing? I don’t know, because humans are tasty and readily available? Why was Godzilla wrecking Tokyo? No particular reason, just trying to get from side to the other for the most part, but all this crap was in his way. Without the need to humanize or give the monster ‘motivation’ the creators could just concentrate on survival and mayhem.
When I was a kid there was nothing quite like a good monster movie to liven up a Saturday afternoon. ‘Cloverfield’ may be a bit too brutal to take the kids to mind you, but it is a great throwback to an almost forgotten genre, with just the right mix of human drama and monster chaos.