Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Pathos of Cloverfield

Perhaps I should call movie reviews "My Eight Dollars Worth"? Yeez.

Rating: Recommended (B)


In brief, Cloverfield was pretty much what I expected: Godzilla meets Blair Witch. What I didn't expect was the queasiness and mild headache I experienced watching it. I'm not prone to motion sickness at all: I love high G-force rides like Disney's"Mission to Space", am not bothered by roller coasters, frequently read in moving cars, and such.

The camera work on this film, which emulates someone using a home video cam, however, is extremely shakey and gave me pause for concern about halfway through. I had to leave for a few minutes to take a break and settle down - and I NEVER leave a movie once it starts. Movies with similar shakey work like Blair Witch had no impact on me nor did the second Bourne movie, which had a very shaky cam. Cloverfield left me feeling not so great. My two co-viewers did not experience this problem. CNN reports others experiencing this same discomfort. I suspect that on home video this will not be a problem and I will enjoy it more on the small screen.

Queasiness aside, I found the movie entertaining. I like the idea of the movie best of all - what is like for the average person on the street in a monster film? You become part of the small group of twentysomethings as they experience with confusion, uncertainty, shock, horror, disbelief, and sheer panic the sudden attack on the city. Most of the characters are not particularly likeable, and although the guy filming their experience is almost a stereotype, he offers up some amusing comic relief with some of his comments. There is a little bit of a love story here, to offer a slight emotional resonance to the film as well as an excuse for the characters to stay in the danger areas, but you don't really have time to get to know the characters. The characters, however, aren't really the point.

The point is the exprience, much less so than any plot. Some viewers behind me complained that there was no story. There is a small character arc, but the story is not what makes this movie enjoyable and actually clever. What is entertaining here is the perspective on a well known film trope. Usually a large monster movie offers you the bird's eye view. But here the view is in miniature for the entire film. The thrill is in not knowing exactly where the monster is, where it's going to be, for a while what it looks like, you never find out what its motives or origin are, or certainly all that it is capable of doing. The film entertains by putting you in the middle of the chaos and making you ask yourself, "what would I do?"

Will you abandon your friend's irrational and emotional decision to turn back to find his love who may not even be alive? Would you stay above ground or go under? Would you fight for control of decision making for the group or just follow another person's directives? What risks would you take? Would you collapse under the emotional strain of the horror and loss? Would you have what it takes to survive?

Having seen it now, I do think that the largely favorable reception of the movie has been because of the new monster movie spin it offers, but perhaps moreso because it provies a very detached and dispassionate way to experience the visceralness of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Cloverfield offers the nation a vent for that morbid speculative pressure.

Although it may seem profane to some to already be slicing up New York again, I think Cloverfield may be a fitting epilogue to those events. Appropriate for its "voice", the movie never answers the "whys," "wheres," and "hows" of the monster and its attack. This fits. Yes, we know who attacked us and how they did it, and we may have an idea of why, but I suggest not really. I suggest that most of us still wonder what exactly prompted that merciless and unprecedented attack on so many innocents. Like the monster in Cloverfield, the 9/11 attacks were sudden, random, and exceptionally violent. And in both cases, we know most intimately about the human toll and still so little about the real origin and reason for the violence.

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