General Release 2008
85 minutes approx
Rob Hawkins -
Jason Hawkins -
Hud Platt -
Beth MacIntyre -
Marlena Diamond -
Directed by -
Written by -
A going away party is in full swing when something impacts in New York. The frightened partygoers suddenly find the severed head of the Statue of Liberty bouncing down their street and a giant monster on the rampage. Unable to escape from Manhattan, they struggle to rescue one of their girlfriends and find the evacuation point before the military go all out to destroy the monster without care for who might be within the zone of destruction.
CLOVERFIELD is the most eagerly awaited science fiction film since, well since THE PHANTOM MENACE (and we know what happened there) thanks to a very crafty marketing campaign based on saying nothing at all. At first it was only the leaked fact that JJ Abrams, the producer of LOST had a new film project and that it might be science fiction. Then the name CLOVERFIELD emerged, which, of course, revealed nothing. Finally there was the intriguing artwork (see above) with the headless Statue of Liberty and swathe of damage through the distant city skyline that sent the by now foaming at the mouth fanboys into overdrive. By the time that the inconclusive trailer emerged the film's success was utterly assured and, considering its (relatively) low $25 million budget, profit within days of release.
That level of hype, however, often leads to let down when the film is finally seen, so is that the case here? Frustratingly (and inkeeping with the whole nature of the project to date) the answer is inconclusive.
The story is not exactly a new one. New York has been being demolished by giant monsters since Hollywood began and CLOVERFIELD is simply THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS told from the viewpoint of the residents of the city, armed with digital video cameras. Being unconnected in any way with the history of the beast or the attempts by the military to destroy it, they have no information at all about what it is, where it came from, what it wants or anything else for that matter. As a result, it brings a refreshing new slant to the story, but at the same time offers no solutions to the questions that even the characters give voice to. All we learn is that the monster is big, destructive and (in the words of one of the soldiers that the survivors run into) 'winning'.
The framing device of having the film made by one of characters on a video camera brings an immediacy to the action, but also means that half the time the camera is flashing around all over the place so much that there's no chance of following what's going on. The more effective moments are when the camera becomes a bit more still such as in a moment when the camera is switched over to low light conditions to reveal an impending threat. The resultant attack is just a whirl of images. It is also hard to believe throughout the film that the kid still has the camera and is filming as he runs for his life when he would have thrown it away to gain more speed.
The video camera idea also means that we are subjected to a running commentary by the character of Hud, constantly asking where people are going, what's happening and helpfully offering his view of what people must be feeling or thinking just in case the audience didn't manage to pick up on it. This is frequently distracting and annoying as hell. On the trek up a tower block's stairways, he wonders where the creature has come from only to be asked whether it matters. When he reacts angrily that is does it sounds like a fit of childish pique, when a shot of the character's face might have shown that it was all that he had to hold onto his sanity with. The same gritty feel that the film has acheived could have been maintained through the hand held technique without having the camera welded to a character's hand and giving some better stability to some of the shots. The first half hour of the film at the party also wouldn't look like an awful amateur home video and be as dull as an awful amateur home video.
Most monster movies live or die by their monster. The one in CLOVERFIELD is almost never shown in totality and never in a close shot for more than a few seconds. It is, however, wonderfully rendered into the footage of the camera and never looks fake. This is how CGI ought to be used. There is also the matter of the smaller creatures that come off the larger one and are just as deadly and much faster. Are they parasites, part of the main creature, its young? The matter is never really considered let alone resolved.
All of this sounds very negative, but there is a lot of good stuff in the film as well. The big set pieces (arrival of Liberty's head, appearance of the monster, rescue in a collapsing building, escape across the bridge, battle in the tunnels) are all pretty exciting and once the story gets going the audience is swept along with it. There is no guessing which way the story is going to go as it takes in a few side alleys along its way and there is no telling who is going to live or die as the cast is made up on unknowns, all of them equally expendable. They pretty much do a decent job of conveying the ordinariness, fear and confusion of their characters, but there aren't any standouts and it's hard to remember them as soon as the film ends.
It goes to show what can be acheived on a relatively tight budget if you have the idea and the story to go with it. It's not the revelation that the marketing campaign promised us, but it sets the bar for the blockbusters of the year to follow and they are going to find it a very hard target to reach.Top
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