So, as mentioned in the previous entry, I bought a ticket for Cloverfield a week or so ago (Fandango = cool). And last night I sat in the theatre (which was nearly empty. Sunday night showings = cool). In accordance with what I’d heard about motion-sickness, I was at the far edge of the first third of the theatre, seating-wise.
The short version is, I liked it.
As I’ve said to many tedious degrees, I was worried about the quality of this film for one reason only–the release date. What studio in its right mind releases a film in the middle of January? Mid-January is dumping time, when those films that won’t win awards or set fire to the box office are released to wrestle over the tiny post-holiday scraps that folks still have in their wallets. Maybe the success of this film–$41 million opening weekend–will change that; it would be nice to have an entire year to look forward to, rather than the obvious highs (Summer, pre-Christmas) that the studios typically target.
In a sense, I can see the “logic” of the studio’s thinking. Here’s a film that’s very low-budget–around $30 million–with no stars and no big names behind the camera, other than co-producer J.J. Abrams. They had little to lose, again by their logic, by releasing it when the competition would be somewhat sparse and uninspired. What they didn’t count on, I think, was the incredibly clever marketing that really pushed the film into the public eye. The advertising for the film seemed designed to intrigue, rather than mystify or annoy, and it avoided the “sure fire” gimmicky nature of, say, Snakes on a Plane. I knew I wanted to see this film.
As for the film itself…
As everyone no doubt knows by now, the film borrows a page from The Blair Witch Project, in that all the footage seen comes from a singe camcorder wielded by the actual characters, rather than a separate director of photography. This lends a huge amount of verisimilitude to the story, as well as a certain level of frustration at the lack of “professional” choice. A number of times, I kept wishing the cameraman would focus on something he’d rapidly panned past (What was that?), rather than the faces of his friends or whatever random image he chose instead. Still, this is his documentation of what’s happening to him and his friends so his choices were understandable. Admittedly, like the Blair Witch “film students,” we simultaneously have to admire the willingness of our amateur cameraman to keep shooting, despite the chaos and death all around–long past the point, in other words, when you and I would have tossed the camera aside in order to concentrate on gettin’ our feets a movin’. But I certainly wouldn’t have minded a little more footage of the monster.
But don’t worry; the monster gets enough screentime, and he’s entirely satisfying. Because he’s almost always in motion, lurching between (and through) buildings, it’s hard to get a good grasp of exactly what he looks like, but there are a number of good shots of him. And if you’ve seen the film, you know there’s one extremely good look at his face, from the worst possible vantage point of one of our heroes.
So, yes, I liked it, and I’m glad to see someone was able to wring another variant of the Blair Witch system. It makes me think that there still are some creative minds in Hollywood who can see the possibilities inherent in an idea that, at first blush, seems unrepeatable. More fool me for thinking it could not be so. What’s nice is that there’s a lot less “idiot plot” than there was in Blair Witch; yes, there is an extremely questionable decision made, but the reasons given are valid. No one acts like an idiot because the movie would be over otherwise. (There are also some definite echoes of Blair Witch–I’m thinking particularly of a pair of shots toward the end. You’ll recognize them.)
There are also, apparently, a number of little things that happen to the side of the image at important moments–not necessarily plot points, but things to think about. I missed one of them (in the final shot) but caught a number of others. What’s interesting is that these things are tossed in more as food for thought, as a way to keep the story open-ended, than as story elements, though they contribute as well. It’s up to the viewer, then, to watch the camcorder footage and try to decide what to focus on, much as our heroes had to do. This is definitely something I’ll want to watch again when it makes its way to home video, if for no other reason than to place all the puzzle pieces into a “narrative.”
But even if you just want to watch a movie and not worry about puzzles and pieces, it’s still a pretty good film, and a very good addition to the “giant monster” genre. One of the best of those, in fact, if for no other reason than “camp” is conspicuous by its absence.