Correction appended on 1-23-08 -This article incorrectly referred to J.J. Abrams as the director of the new film “Cloverfield” and the TV series “Lost.” He is the producer of “Cloverfield” and the creator of “Lost.”
“Cloverfield” is interesting. Not interesting in the sense that anything about the film is particularly mind-blowing or revolutionary, but in the sense that it’s almost an entirely new form of media. The hype for this movie has been almost unavoidable. Fake websites, blogs, MySpace pages and YouTube videos have been popping up all over the place since July. The thing is, if you missed all that, it’s very possible you might hate the movie.
The film’s main hurdle is that it provides no answers: It’s a first person account of a monster attack on New York City. As one of the writers said, “There’s no man in a white lab coat that shows up and explains everything, it’s not that type of movie.” What does this mean? You have to figure it out yourself.
Producer J.J. Abrams is no stranger to the art of mindfuck (as the creator of “Lost”) – possibly the most interesting but least rewarding show on television. His take on the monster movie has been described perfectly as “Blair Witch” meets “Godzilla.” It’s all shot from a jerky handheld camera which will periodically make you want to vomit. At other times, the camera will make your jaw drop as it plants you in the middle of a firefight between the U.S. Army and a giant, um, thing.
If you want to know where the monster came from, try Googling “Targruato,” the fictional corporation that recently posted footage of its oil rig being destroyed in the Atlantic Ocean. Want to know what happens after the film’s over? Stay after the credits, record the garbled sound clip you hear and then play it backwards. I’m not joking. For a complete list of all the back-story and post-story you could ever ask for, read the IMDB.com FAQ created for the film.
And now this leads us to the obligatory part of any “Cloverfield” review: The spoiler alert. All who want to be completely in the dark before viewing should skip the next three paragraphs.
The monster: What the hell is it? The answer is perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie. It’s part praying mantis, part lobster, part squid, but pretty much it’s just a big, angry monster. It’s not Godzilla and it’s not a giant lion-esque thing like some speculated. It’s just a monster — and this fact is immensely disappointing.
J.J. Abrams is notorious for jarring plot twists, such as the monster in the first season of “Lost.” The thing bellowed like a dinosaur and uprooted trees as it moved through the jungle. What was it? A giant pillar of smoke. Yeah. And we’re still waiting for an explanation for that one three seasons later.
The monster in “Cloverfield,” however, is the equivalent of the monster in “Lost” turning out to be an angry elephant or something equally expected. One attempted twist on the traditional monster tale is the little spider-like creatures that live on the thing. They fall off and chase the remaining survivors and when they bite you, you explode half an hour later. It’s all very “Alien,” but far less original.
Disappointment aside, there are many redeeming aspects to “Cloverfield,” and it does adequately shed a fresh light on the typical monster flick. It’s nice to see the genre return with a watchable, enjoyable feature. But the problem is that it could have been so much more. There’s so much to say about it, it’s hard to keep track of it all. It really does make you think and try to figure out every detail. And then you think maybe it’s all an allegory for terrorism. Giant, mindless, rampaging beast destroys New York? Think about that. Some of the scenes even look like they’re taken directly from Sept. 11 news footage.
My recommendation? Do the research, look up all the secret viral videos and backwards encoded sound clips and you’ll add a whole new dimension to the fairly straightforward, yet answerless film. You’ll also enjoy it a lot more.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
At Showcase and Quality 16