Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I'm hesitant to quote a film featuring the number two Scientologist, but CLOVERFIELD had me at hello. Hell, it didn't even have a name back then! On that fateful opening weekend of last summer's "blockbuster" that shall remain nameless, I witnessed the teaser trailer and was hooked. Give me the large scale destruction of a major metropolis, leave me wanting more (what the hell was that?) AND don't distract me with a big star's face... I'm sold!

As told through 'found footage' recorded by a small group experiencing the 'event'. We meet Rob (Michael Stahl-David) at his going away party, along with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas), Rob's 'main dude' Hud (T.J. Miller), the girl Hud is crushing on, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and Rob's best friend/crush Beth (Odette Yustman). Panic and chaos ensues as 'something' very large cuts a swath of destruction through Manhattan, leaving our group of friends running for their lives. Everything that we see is what was camcorded my Hud, (Heads Up Display... cute) which gives us the perspective of a disaster at the ground level. It's not about a group of heroes rising up to battle the creature and save the day, it's about surviving a catastrophe too absolute to even wrap your head around, and that's what makes it compelling.

This film was pretty high on my list of anticipated releases, and the overabundant viral marketing only pulled me in more. The main characters even have MySpace pages for crying out loud! Thankfully none of it spoiled any aspect of the film, it just left me asking more questions as I pondered the origin of the creature, which is entirely inconsequential as far as the movie goes.

So, about the film... is it THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets GODZILLA? Sort of, and not really. Let's get the knee-jerk comparisons out of the way: shaky-cam found footage and a very large monster... check. What it's not is a slow burn of paranoia or a comment on the evils of atomic energy. It's been called a love story with a giant monster (not IN love with a giant monster, mind you) but that's only true in the sense that it's the device that gets us on the ride, and that's what it's all about.

When Rob gets a phone call from Beth, hurt and trapped in her apartment, his friends, and us in the audience, get on this great ride into the heart of the chaos. This is where the film succeeds without question, and what makes it a great theatrical experience. Or a dizzy and queasy experience, depending on your tolerance of shaky-cam. It's the thrill of the chased as they encounter the monster, the military, and navigate through the wreckage of NYC.

There has been some criticism leveled at the film for exploiting the imagery of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and you can't help but recall it's aftermath while watching scenes of buildings collapsing in Manhattan. I really didn't find it exploitive in a tasteless way, I think it's just a matter of accepting that any film that mirrors those events in any way is going to strike a cord. If it's "too soon" as some will say, then who decides when it's not? And let's face it, all manner of cinematic destruction has rained on Manhattan since we've had the technology to do so. Will we frown on movies in the past that have wrecked up NYC? What about GHOSTBUSTERS! What about ARMAGEDDON? (OK, that's a trick question.)

What I really liked about the film is what a lot of others may complain about. Not enough monster! What/how/why is this happening? I think CLOVERFIELD is a great example of "less is more". It grounds the story in terms that we can relate to, which are survival, and the safety of those we care about.

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