Okay, so here’s the second post in a row. (So if you didn’t already read the one below, which I just posted, do that first.) We went and saw Cloverfield today. We were one of the many who saw the mysterious trailer before Transformers last summer and were tantalized at the prospect of something potentially unique coming from J. J. Abrams. Never seen Lost. Never seen Alias. Seen M:I:3. Still, it’s clear that the guy has something going.
They’re saying that Cloverfield is your average monster movie meets Blair Witch Project. That could well be. I haven’t seen that movie, but I’ve seen enough monster movies to know that Cloverfield is super-formulaic. Still, it was pretty cool. Point of view is not everything, but it is a lot. Even knowing a lot about it before it beforehand, I was amazed at the effect of the hand-held camera. Forgive the entendre, but it definitely takes moviegoing to a new level. The God’s-eye view of your average monster movie is not very compelling anymore. As much as we love having every possible vantage point of the evil creature, it ends up boring you. Give the viewer everything they want, and then they’ll be satisfied. Seems more effective to keep the viewer wanting more, not satisfied. Cloverfield succeeded here. The human point-of-view is the only one to which humans can actually relate. Duh. Of course, it wasn’t a totally human point-of-view, despite the hand-held camera. The shots were always positioned with remarkable deliberateness, whether that meant showing something or withholding it a little. It was human enough, though, to be different. So, I thought that were Cloverfield attempted to be unique, it was unique. It’s an idea that fits well with the times. At least as interesting as what you see is how you see it. Bring it back down to the way that your average joe sees it, and it will actually be more enthralling.
A lot of people are talking about the allusions within the film to 9/11. They’re hard to ignore, it’s true. Watching a New York skyscraper explode and then fall, all from a ground-level home video camera, less than 10 years after the fateful day, makes it pretty much impossible to miss. But Cloverfield had one thing going for it – it didn’t make a joke out of the fear. The moments of humor were few and said more about “the human spirit” than anything else. Spielberg’s disaster film (another pun) War of the World, on the other hand, was just uncomfortable. As Mr. Mesh pointed out in The Pulse, Dakota Fanning’s paranoia was much more troubling than cute. As Tom Cruise drove her away from the wreckage, she screamed something to the effect of, “Is it terrorists?!!” Trivializing the very real fear that is present in the world today in the middle of a movie about alien invasion is not cool. You wanted to pat Dakota on the head and say, chuckling, “No, dearie, it’s not terrorists. Wouldn’t that be nice? These are blood-sucking aliens, come to annihilate us completely. Don’t you worry about terrorists.” And the urge to say that to Dakota is a bad urge. Cloverfield avoids that pretty well. After the head of the Statue of Liberty ricochets off of a skyscraper and then comes crash-landing onto a major NY avenue, pedestrians all get out their camera phones and take pictures. But it’s done quite naturally, because that’s what would happen in that event. The film’s end has a close-up of a major character lying down dead, an almost identical shot as the head of the statue near the film’s beginning. This inclusio effect ties the statue to humanity in a sobering manner. There’s nothing funny or awesome about the decapitation of the national statue when it prophesies the same fate of real-blooded people. The film’s final shot brought us a truly good, if sappy, image. It was hopeful and kind of inspiring, actually. It’s being said that despite its originality, it’s formulaic. It should also be said that despite being formulaic, it’s pretty good.