For a gimmick movie Cloverfield sets out to do what its trailer promises and it does it well. The first-person monster movie trick succeeds in an entertaining, mostly successful way, even if none of it is all that new. Just be ready for lots of blinking. My eyes had to refocus a lot. Bourne and Blair Witch ain’t got nothing on Hud’s shaky hands.
The documenter, named Hud – why that name? Perhaps HUD for the Heads-Up Display in first-person shooters or Hudson, the wisecracking Marine from Aliens – is, well, the wisecracking buddy of Rob, who’s off to Japan, or he would be, if it wasn’t for the giant monster that trashes his going-away party. Manhattan’s under attack so what’s a band of good-looking 20-somethings to do? Help save the girl who might have sex with Rob again, that’s what! And that’s just what Rob sets out to do, with Hud in tow and camera in hand, Rob’s brother Jason and two girls, they try to escape the rampaging beast and reach Rob’s would-be lover uptown. By walking through miles of subway tunnels and dozens and dozens of flights of stairs.
The main characters’ actions are really what require the most amount of disbelief suspension, their initial motivations are more of a MacGuffin than anything, just an excuse to get the movie rolling. And it rolls, tumbles, crashes and explodes (mostly) satisfactorily. The first-person shakiness really does amp the immediacy and places you right there. Obvious 9/11 news footage comparisons aside, producer/brainguy J.J. Abrams has a knack for transmitting audiences into his worlds – what would you do if you were on the island in LOST? – and it’s all very entertaining and swiftly and confidently executed. The movie builds up these schmucks, places them in mortal peril for a while, then stops in record time. It tells you right at the beginning where it’s going to end.
Is it the revolutionary event film it’s hyped up to be? In some ways, sure. This movie isn’t eye-rolling dumb shit like Godzilla or anything Roland Emmerich has touched. It’s pretty damn well made. There’s no soundtrack until the end and it does feel like found footage at times. It’s a solid flick with tinges of excitement and suspense, but that’s all I got. Tinges. I do like it more the more I think about it
and it’s also the best film of 2008 so far but it just didn’t send me marching down the aisles trumpeting its genius. The worst thing about it is the talky character bits outnumber the scary monster bits. And the scary bits? Well, I wasn’t really scared by Cloverfield. It’s certainly not the next Alien although the monster’s final reveal is sort of similar.
Besides Alien I can’t help but feel I’ve seen it all before. There’s a whole history of monster-attacking-metropolis movies like, y’know, Godzilla or the very recent The Host. There’s also a video game genre, I mentioned it before, maybe you heard of this too, called first-person-shooters. The best of them, Half-Life 2, did everything Cloverfield does years ago: giant monsters, treks through dark underground tunnels, military bombardments, even the monster concepts and accompanying sound effects are the same. Cloverfield does have the distinction of not focusing on patriotic presidents or war heroes or scientists. It uses real, dopey people so it’s got that going for it.
I wasn’t disappointed in Cloverfield. I got exactly what I expected. But why no mention of the Hanso Foundation in the credits. C’mon, J.J. you did it with
M:I-III Mission: Impossible III, why not this?! Maybe the Hanso Foundation will be a Black Mesa rival in the eventual Half-Life movie. Directed by J.J. Abrams! Starring the new Spock! C’mon, cinema! Catch up, already!