Monday, February 04, 2008

Oh, to be a suburbanite...

Three stars out of Four

It’s a bad time to live in midtown Manhattan. First we get Will Smith and a killer super-virus in “I Am Legend” wiping out New York, now we get “Cloverfield”…

The feedback I heard on “Cloverfield” before seeing it Saturday night fell into two camps:

1. It’s awesome.
2. It totally stinks.

After seeing it myself, I can only assume the people who took stance #2 fall within the following categories:

1. People that are very sensitive to motion, as in really sensitive.
2. People that don’t like semi-ambiguous endings.
3. People who just don’t have taste.

I went in thinking that there would be a fourth category, “People who don’t like monster movies where you don’t see the monster”, but they show it plenty. I won’t tell you what it looks like, but I will tell you that it doesn’t look like Godzilla. Or King Kong.

So I can forgive category number one, but not two and three. “Cloverfield” was awesome. The concept was original, the acting was believable, the story was simple but interesting, and the special effects were blended wonderfully.

So here’s the skinny: “Cloverfield” is “Godzilla” without the omniscient point-of-view. Instead of spending two hours watching a CGI monster destroy New York while thinly drawn characters run around and act dumb, you spend 90 minutes experiencing the whole event on the ground with those characters. The only thing you know that the characters don’t is that the movie poster shows the Statue of Liberty with its head missing.

It’s a concept that has been tried before. Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” followed Tom Cruise through the apocalyptic stand-off, and never let you get too far outside of his range of scope. But there were still plenty of birds-eye view shots and other omniscient cuts that gave you a larger view of what was going on. But every shot in “Cloverfield” is taken through a video camera held by one of the main actors (hence the constant motion), so you literally only see what they see. In fact, you kind of see less.

Of course, this requires a little suspension of disbelief in order to buy into the film, but you should already have done that when you decided to go pay eight bucks to see a monster movie. You can make little arguments about realism problems and why the military would be so fully deployed within hours of the monster coming ashore, but the truth of the matter is that this is a film that is trying to ask what it would be like to actually live through one of the crazy monster movies we saw growing up. And it does a great job of answering that question.

A lot of people have been comparing this movie to “The Blair Witch Project”, so I’d feel like even more of a second-rate critic if I didn’t mention it. I can only assume they’re right, because I have never seen “The Blair Witch Project”. I am a second-rate film critic.

“Cloverfield” is the brainchild of J. J. Abrams, who gave us “Lost” and “Mission Impossible: III”, so if you’re a fan of those, you’ll probably dig this one, too. I love “Lost”, and “MI:III” featured Jimmy Cliff on the soundtrack (plus “How do you like me now that I’m crazy?” Tom Cruise), so I figured I was pretty safe going into this one.

I wasn’t disappointed.

“Cloverfield” is rated PG-13 for lots of epic destruction and some profanity, but it doesn’t have the obligatory F-Bomb or Strip Club Scene a lot of PG-13 movies have, so that’s pretty cool. There is this really painful scene where the cameraman is trying to meet this girl he’s into, but other than that it’s all good.