Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No. 1: Clusterfu, er, Cloverfield

The Greeks would sum up my friend's experience watching Cloverfield thusly: Vini, Vidi, Vomite. I came, I saw, I threw up.

My friend's reaction, in its' own gross way, is possibly what director Matt Reeves was going for with this so-simple-it's-too-clever-by-half upending of the Kaiju formula. Simply put, instead of seeing the action from the outside in, we're plunged into the heart of the action -- and, supposedly, the Lower East Side (though our New York correspondent, Mona Lisa Vito, says some shots suggest a vantage point of Harlem.)

Outside of that, though, we get no backstory, aside from Rob (Michael Stahl-David) pining over longtime friend Beth (Odette Yustman) and seemingly finally losing her the night of his going-away party, all captured on video by his best friend Hud (Seth Rogen lookalike T.J. Miller). As protagonists go, this group and their friends is suspect. They come off more like retreads from The O.C. than honest-to-Giuliani New Yorkers. Six minutes in, I was ready to root for the monster.

Yes, it is a monster. No, this wasn't a top-secret Voltron movie. The story truly kicks off when the tim'rous beasti goes Sweeney Todd on Lady Liberty and starts rampaging around the city.

I won't spoil it, of course, but let me just say: as monsters go, this one's definitely mean-looking. No guy-in-rubber-suit goofiness here. In another change-up on the formula, we're never told what it is, and none of these decidedly common (though unnervingly pretty) people suddenly becomes neither an expert nor a champion. "Whatever it is, it's winning," one overmatched sergeant huffs, and that's all we get explained to us. The rest of the uglyness is for us to watch and try to figure out.

Since it's a disaster, and since it's New York -- and really, hasn't this city been picked on enough? Wouldn't Los Angeles pay a monster to demolish its' downtown at this point? -- we get a few shots designed to harken back to You Know What during the beast's initial assault.

Along the way, Hollywood conventions bump into the storytelling experiment: Rob decides to journey back into the beast's path to rescue Beth. His friends decide to join him. Nobody decides to steal a gun or get out of their hipster boots or heels. Hud decides to keep taping, explaining, "Someone needs to see this." And the military decides to let him. Since the film grossed a reported $41 million last weekend, I guess we can't argue with him.

That kind of money demands a sequel, and the story leaves enough dangling threads (What created this thing? What's its' next move? Did the Knicks sign it to a two-year contract?) to sell it on more than the curiosity factor this film had going for it.
Cloverfield vs. Eli, here we come!

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Image Credits:
* Photo 1 courtesy of Chicago Tribune & Paramount Pictures
* Photo 2 courtesy of MSNBC & Paramount Pictures

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