Jul 6, 2008

[Movies] Cloverfield

CloverfieldThe second of the three movies that I watched on the tiny LCD screen during my flight from Los Angeles to Taipei was Cloverfield, the J.J. Abrams monster movie that got souped up on a healthy dose of The Blair Witch Project. when the movie originally came out, I was somewhat skeptical about the movie concept since they were one again playing the shaky camera gimmick and the whole pseudo-indie feel. I have to admit I'm not exactly a big J.J. Abrams fan (and no, I'm not a fan of the LOST TV series either) so the name factor wasn't enough to draw me in. Yes, I remember that he's currently helming the Star Trek IX project and I have suspended judgment until the movie actually comes out.

However when you're on a 13-hour flight next to a rather unpleasant-smelling Japanese guy, then you might as well hunker down and try to enjoy whatever movies that show the least amount of potential.

I'm pretty sure the whole tiny LCD viewing experience added another element of challenge in watching the movie for me, but overall I have to admit that I rather enjoyed the film and would be willing to see it again on DVD. That's what I get for letting hype get in the way of deciding whether or not to watch a film.

Photos on the 1-18-08.com viral marketing website.Image via WikipediaCloverfield is the story of a mega monster attack on the city of New York akin to the Godzilla movies of the past. However the twist here is that instead of tracking the organized resistance against the monster, J.J. Abrams opted to capture the story from the perspective of the people on the ground. Hence the need for the consumer shaky camera effect and the need to flesh out a back story with relatively unknown, mostly TV actors. It was certainly a bold idea and the kind of creative film making we don't see as much of in these financially-driven entertainment times.

First off, let's take the concept itself. While the notion of a monster movie isn't at all new, the way Cloverfield was presented was certainly original and refreshing. You can really feel the sense of panic and uncertainty as you follow the characters around the city as they try to seek safety. You don't even get to see much of the actual monster except for stolen glimpses and TV news coverage given at the level of the average man on the street, you just don't get automatically entitled to aerial shots. They remained very consistent with keeping in line with this POV without giving into the temptation to switching to a "narrator" or going back to Hollywood wide angle shots just to show more of the city and the monster.

Next comes the core story. For this movie, the monster was not the focus nor was the country's government fighting off the monster. Instead we get stuck with this very normal group of friends who were just at a party some hours earlier and are now running for their lives. They could have done the predictable thing and just made their story focus on their trying to run away and survive, but they didn't. Instead they gave the characters a pseudo-quest of sorts from a classic storytelling sense and the intrepid group decided to push forward despite everything going on. It wasn't at all far-fetched given the characterizations done for them and it's a whole lot better than having a group of average New Yorkers somehow managing to find a way to defeat the monster - admit it, you thought that might be a possible use for them, right?

When you put it all together, it's a very simple story set against very unusual circumstances and told in a very compelling way. The focus here was the story of the characters as a group and not for any one of them as "main" protagonists. Sure, there's that weird love story angle going on, but at the end of things it was about the cast as a collective ensemble, which made sense. they made sure not to use big name actors not because of budget but more because their fame would actually act as a distraction instead of a way of helping things along.

That's really what I like the most about Cloverfield - that it was about the story. Not the actors. Not the special effects. Not the monster. It was about people and how we follow them through the gloom as they try and tell a story.

We need more movies that remember to have a core story at heart.
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