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"Cloverfield" is a monstrously entertaining motion picture

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"Cloverfield" is a monstrously entertaining motion picture

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Now the answer to the question that everyone has been waiting for: 

Question: Why is the monster in "Cloverfield" tearing up Manhattan?

Answer: Because this creature is still P.O.ed about not being able to score tickets to the "Hannah Montana" concert.

Okay. Now that that lame joke / obligatory Disney reference is out of the way, let's talk about "Cloverfield." That clever reinvention of the Japanese monster movie which is opening in theaters nationwide this coming Friday.

Why call "Cloverfield" a reinvention? Well, for decades now, whenever Godzilla stomped through Tokyo, you (as an audience member) always observed that action from a distance in a long shot. So when that man in a rubber suit knock over some buildings ... It was entertaining and all that. But you never really got a sense of what the true stakes were. What it might actually felt like to have a skyscraper-sized creature stomping through your city.

Well, "Cloverfield" is about to change all that. For this Matt Reeves movie puts moviegoers down on the ground right in the middle of the action. Thanks to this film's clever conceit (i.e. that you're watching footage from a hand-held camera that was recovered from the scene of the "incident"), you're there at street level as this enormous bat-walking-on-its-hands-like creature lays waste to Manhattan.

Which -- I know -- makes "Cloverfield" sound like "The Blair Witch Project" on steroids. But this J.J. Abrams production is so much more smarter than that. It uses its first 15 minutes to quickly sketch out all the characters that you need to know ...


 Copyright 2008 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

  • Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), this rising young executive who's about to leave NYC for a new job in Japan
  • Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman), the girl that Rob has loved since college
  • Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel), Rob's brother who's throwing a going-away party with the help of ...
  • Lily Ford (Lessica Lucas), Jason's fiancee
  • Hud (T.J.Miller), Rob's best friend who's been tasked with camcording testimonials at this shindig
  • Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan), the sarcastic girl that Hud keeps hitting on

... as well as giving us the backstory (i.e. A few weeks ago, Rob & Beth finally slept together. But Rob then blew it by not calling Beth afterwards. So she's since moved on). Through the viewfinder on Hud's camera, we watch Rob & Beth have a fight and she storms out of the party. Then -- as Jason sits with Rob & Hud out on the fire escape, counseling his brother to go after the girl of his dreams -- that's when the earth begins to shake. And all of the skyscapers that we see in the distance briefly lose power.

And from that point on ... All hell breaks loose. Some sort of enormous creature emerges from the depths in New York Harbor and -- after knocking the head off of the Statue of Liberty -- then begins ripping apart the city. And as Rob, Hud, Jason, Lily and Marlena try and flee NYC, Rob gets a phone call from Beth. She tells him that she's injured & trapped inside of her apartment building. And then the battery on Rob's cell phone goes dead.

And from that point forward, "Cloverfield" becomes the story of Rob's rescue mission. How -- in the foreground -- he and his friends try and make their way through this mangled version of Manhattan in order to save Beth. Meanwhile -- in the background -- this mega-monster and the U.S. military do battle all over NYC.

Now I know that this monster-in-the-background idea may frustrate some moviegoers. Particularly since you never really get a clear view of the entire "Cloverfield" monster over the course of this motion picture.

Oh, sure. Over the course of the film, you see footage of the monster that's been captured by newscopters that are hovering above midtown. But given the angle as well as the speed of the creature, you only get a brief glimpse of its enormous tail and haunch before it then disappears behind some buildings.


 Copyright 2008 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Another time (Thanks to that hand-held camera), you're in the middle of this truly intense firefight. And then -- for one brief moment -- the creature's ginormous T-Rex-like head looms above the street ... And then Hud, our cameraman, wisely turns his lens away from the action and seeks shelter.

It's sudden camera moves like that may put off those of you who are prone to motion sickness. But that said, this shot-entirely-on-a-hand-held-camera look gives "Cloverfield" a sense of reality, a you-are-there quality that no Japanese monster movie has ever had.

In fact, given that we now live in a post-9/11 world ... I sometimes wondered -- as I watched "Cloverfield" -- if Abrams, Reeves and screenwriter Drew Goddard hadn't gotten the details too right. That huge grey cloud of dust that came rushing down the street after the monster knocked down a skyscraper, or how those individual pieces of paper continued to flutter down long after the creature had torn through a neighborhood ... Those visuals seem all too familiar to those of us who watched in horror as the towers fell.

Though -- that said -- that may actually be the biggest compliment that one can pay the "Cloverfield" creative team. That these film-makers made it seem all too real. Whether it was the method that Rob, Lily and Hud use to gain access to Beth's collapsed apartment building, the soldiers' terminology in this picture (Beware the "Hammerdown Protocol"), right down to the idea that all of the footage that we see in this movie was accidentally taped on top of an earlier recording on Rob & Beth. One that was taken at a much happier time. Which effectively bookends this film.

All this plus the amazing effects work of Tippet Studio (working -- along with half dozen other effects houses in Hollywood -- off of Neville Page's Creature Design) -- make "Cloverfield" a movie you won't soon forget.

I mean, there are so many amazing setpieces in this motion picture. The destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge. That walk through the pitch-black subway tunnel (More importantly, what's crawling across the ceiling directly behind our heroes). The almost-escape by helicopter. Hud getting up-close and personal with the creature ... As well as some genuinely funny bits of dialogue (i.e "It's time to leave the electronics store," "Something else. Also terrible") ... It's kind of hard to believe that Reeves, Goddard and Abrams were able to cram so many laughs & scares into a single 84-minute-long movie.

Putting it simply, "Cloverfield" is a monstrously entertaining motion picture. If you're in need of a thrill ride but can't get to Anaheim or Orlando anytime soon, this is the film that you need to seek out the MLK weekend.

Your thoughts?

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  • Aahh! What does the darn thing look like, Jim? Stop teasing us! It's a giant mouse, isn't it? A giant mouse with red pants, white buttons, and yellow shoes....

  • La resistance

    I went to a screening last night and the Paramount suits told us to not tell anyone what the creature looked like.

    Well, I'd like to tell you what the creature looked like but it's kind of difficult without something to compare it to.  Finally, something so original that it defies description.  I can say this much.  It looks like it walks on all fours, it has a tail and it moves with a speed and ferocity that you don't get from Godzilla.   It is absolutely massive, the smaller creatures are frightening and the movie takes its time in letting you see what the creature looks like.  But this is a good thing.

    And the movie is short.  We are talking about an hour and a half tops.  Which is good because the camera work is so raw and amateur looking that it makes you feel like you are part of the experience.  But since it is from the point of view of Hud's camera, the movement can potentially give you motion sickness.  When you go see the flick, make sure you see it as far back as possible.  

    I am getting my ticket to go see again this weekend.

  • Hmmm..... CGI graphics used to provide realistic small-scale physics in a movie whose basic premise is a victory of adolescent imagination over the laws of physics.

    Sounds like fun!

  • Isaw a sneak screening last night and I hated it.  A little hand held camera work is great... but a whole movie with the attendant bad lighting, angles etc. made it pretty unwatchable.   The first fifteen minutes is all about very rich and beautiful twenty-somethings living the good life in New York; pretty standard Melrose Place stuff except we never learn enough about any of them to like them and care about them when they die.  PLOT:  Some spoiled rich kids run back into the city and get themslves killed by some sort of monster for no good reason.

    Too many unanswered questions make this "Blair Wich Project" retread a waste of time and money.

    Unanswered questions:  What is the creature?  Why is it in New York? Where is it from?  Why is the movie called "Cloverfield"?  Is the creature ever killed?   How is it killed?

  • Quote Richard Mercer: "Hmmm..... CGI graphics used to provide realistic small-scale physics in a movie whose basic premise is a victory of adolescent imagination over the laws of physics.

    Sounds like fun!"

    End Quote.

    I couldn't agree more... I was sort of intrigued by Cloverfield at first... but it looks too cheesy now. I'll skip it.

  • Paramount is watching this one closely. The domestic box office returns will determine whether this melrose avenue based studio will invest in any further shaky cam productions. It would be a shame to see them release all those talented highly-trained cameramen, who spent years perfecting the artform of a nervous tick combined with poor focus quality. It's not a fad - there is an audience there - but will the suits listen? Rumors run rampant based on what I heard from a cousin twice removed from someone who used to work near the studio lot, that if this film doesn't deliver, Paramount may sell off all of their small cameras, or even worse, simply crush them without any concern for recycling.  

  • So when are we getting a feature shot entirely on cell phones?

    Um yeah... Curious about Cloverfield but I tend to like the monsters best because I don't see 'em in real life.

  • My best friend saw a private screening about a week and a half ago and he'd agree with you, Jim, though as he put it "Americans may not like the ending" (he's in New Zealand).  Other than that he LOVED it.  I only wish he hadn't been so closed-mouthed about spoilers . . . *shakes a retributionary fist in the air, laughing*

  • To the people who think this is a waste of time.

    Ever watch a home video of a wedding?  A vacation? How about a home video featuring an air show, fireworks show, or a ride on Star Tours. BORING .... except to the person who took the video usually. I remember when I brought home my first video of Disneyland's Fantasmic years ago. My parrents just didn't get it from wtaching it on a 27 inch TV.... yet it gets to me everytime because I was there.

    That is the point of CLOVERFIELD.  With a little something called "imagination" ... YOU are expected to fill in the gaps, connect the dots... etc.

    I personally like the idea. Maybe a film like Cloverfield plays to those of us who know what filming home movies it like ... we can "imagine" what it would be like to be there more than others?

    I don't know ... but in any case ... this is a 73 minute long movie ... its a SMALL piece of a much LARGER story ... its in my opinion one of the most perfect ways to introduce us to it.

    Like James Cameron's Ghosts Of The Abyss complemented TITANIC. So to will Cloverfield complement something else.

    Early word on the street is that there are plans to make a movie depicting the "bigger picture". We will get our blockbuster a-la "War Of The Worlds" with the aerial shots, slow mo action, etc.

    If you can think of "Cloverfield" as that tape that gets put in a sealed envelope and locked away in a safe in a basement somewhere in Washington DC .... you may actually enjoy it for what it is suposed to be rather than be disapointed in what it isnt.

  • "It's sudden camera moves like that may put off those of you who are prone to motion sickness."

    Which is exactly why I won't go see it.  I'm not going to spend money to be sick the entire time (Blair Witch taught me that).  I for one think we need to move away from the idea that the only way to feel like you're "part of the action" is to shake the camera like you've got the palsy.  A well-thought-out story doesn't need a gimmick like that.

  • It's an interesting concept. I wouldn't want to see alot of movies shot this way, but it could be cool once.

    BTW, In reading several reviews, they do reveal the meaning of the title.

  • I've already talked to one friend who threw up due to the hand-held camera filming style.  Two other people had thrown up at the theater as well.

  • I saw it last night, and yeah, the shaky-cam can be annoying at times, but for the most part they do a good job of making it believable. You get a couple good glimpses of the monster, but it really is quite beyond description.

    *SPOILER ALERT*

    It's reptillian, has huge jaws, puffy cheeks (I think they'r cheeks), sometimes bipedal, sometimes not... and it has tentacles. Or was it a tail? See what I mean? It's really quite bizarre-looking. If you've seen the Korean horror movie, The Host, the creature design is simlar to that because you can't quite pinpoint exactly what it looks like. I can't wait for the scale models to go into production!

  • Too many unanswered questions make this "Blair Wich Project" retread a waste of time and money.

    Unanswered questions:  What is the creature?  Why is it in New York? Where is it from?  Why is the movie called "Cloverfield"?  Is the creature ever killed?   How is it killed?

    ________________________________________________

    It had these questions because the movie was trying to go at the concept realistically.  Would a bunch of random 30 year olds in New York know where the monster came from?  How would they know if and how it died unless they had it reported to them or they witnessed it first hand?

    This is it taking the Godzilla type of film and playing "what if?"  What if we followed this story, but not from the POV of the hero military general in DC, but from the POV of some random guy stuck in the middle of it.  And is every hand-held first person film an automatic rehash of Blair Witch?  Young Sherlock Holmes had the first CG photorealistic character, so is every other film that features CG photorealistic halucinations a rehash of Young Sherlock Holmes?  The story is different even if the filming methods are similiar.  Many films have been done "documentary style," before and after Blair Witch.  

  • I LOVED it! Thought it was perfect. I would love to see more original films like this within this genre. It was entertaining, engaging and was like a thrill ride in and of itself. I am completely satisfied with the film.

    It broke records, btw. Biggest January opening in history.

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