QUADRIVIUM

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

Smash Cut – “Cloverfield”

with 4 comments

It’s not easy to admit this. But they say confession starts the process of healing, so I’m just going to lay it out there. I ignored the reviews. I ignored my friends’ advice. I even ignored my own good sense. I was duped, see — caught up in the enthusiasm that anyone who can set up film so spectacularly has to deliver a terrific pay off. My pride’s only recourse is that no one can count me among the hapless many that shelled out full price for a ticket to see the disastrous train wreck that is Cloverfield.

It’s Robert Hawkins’s last night in Manhattan. His friends have all gathered to wish him well while one compadre totes a video camera around to capture everyone’s goodbyes—and the entire film happens through its lens.

A jolting earthquake brings everything to a halt. Everyone heads to the roof of this posh Manhattan apartment complex to see all the action, just in time to witness a cataclysmic explosion erupt in the city, spewing debris. Hawkins and his buddies evacuate the building, just in time (you’ll find yourself repeating this phrase a lot) to see the head of the Statue of Liberty crash into the streets of New York. A monster has invaded the city!

It’s a near-flawless logline; the perfect set up to a 90 minute disaster flick, and difficult to screw up. Somehow, the filmmakers actually manage to do just that. Thankfully, it only lasts about 73 minutes.

The marketing for this film was brilliant, releasing a quick trailer six months ahead revealing the premise, the creative minds attached, and a release date. No title. Audiences went crazy with speculation. Everyone started hoping to relive the Blair Witch phenomenon. The downfall started once we learned the title — an enigmatic name various web sites had floated from the beginning; a name with no relevance to anything in the film, implied or imagined, at all. And that’s just a precursor.

This near-flawless premise comes polluted with cookie-cutter iterations of any number of shallow personalities found on the WB’s line up. There’s the jilted lover, the lover’s hip brother, the brother’s endearing girlfriend, and the token slacker/best friend who just can’t keep his mouth shut. And they all have to find Hawkins’s girlfriend, trapped in her apartment. Conveniently located at the epicenter of the monster’s inexplicable wrath. On the 39th floor.

They have no choice, you see. Remember all those rescue workers, those heroes, that gave themselves and often their lives on 9-11? They’re conspicuously missing from this picture. Perhaps there is no emergency responder for convoluted plotlines.

When the performances captured in the trailers look and sound more natural than those used in the final cut, something’s amiss. Running on the premise that everything you see was supposedly culled from home video footage, spontaneity becomes a key selling point. Everything about this picture feels forced or manufactured.

Critics have drawn numerous parallels between this movie and the other “home video” thriller – The Blair Witch Project – and comparisons should end with the inclusion of the video camera. The terror of Blair Witch was elemental; it played on base fears, building on that oft ignored rule that what you can’t see is much scarier than what you can. Where Blair Witch terrifies, Cloverfield only inspires guffaws. So many scares spurn utterances of “I-seen-that-one-coming” that you wonder why the movie bothers to take itself so seriously. One particular scene might have earned a place among the more chilling moments to come out of the genre in recent years, were it not so delimited by cliché.

I really wanted to like this picture, yet every time I find a compliment, a qualifier has to follow. For instance, the film possesses some amazing visuals, but nothing that surpasses anything seen all the other times Hollywood has blown up New York. The filmmakers involved in this project – Drew Goddard, J.J. Abrams, etc. – have earned numerous accolades for their work on television for years. Not quite sure what happened here, but for all its marketing innovation, Cloverfield falls well short of what should have been a slam dunk.

(photo (c) Paramount Pictures)

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Written by taj

April 22, 2008 at 10:12 pm

4 Responses

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  1. good to know I can save my rental money for something else.

    ambri

    April 23, 2008 at 8:57 am

  2. I thought it was the best movie of the year! You have no idea what you are talking about! You have bad taste!

    John

    April 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm

  3. I agree that Travis has bad taste, but only because he likes that U2 junk sung by the Bone-oh guy. 😛 On movies he tends to be spot on, so I’ll follow his advice on this one. In the meantime, I’m conducting an archeological dig trying to locate my Spinal Tape DVD so I can bless Travis with the best 80s music never played!!! 😀

    Peter Pike

    April 23, 2008 at 6:53 pm

  4. Of course, Spinal Tape should be Spinal Tap. I used up all my spelling skills on “archeological.”

    Peter Pike

    April 23, 2008 at 6:54 pm


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