Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield Review

Cloverfield? What's Cloverfield? Oh, it's a monster movie that's gotten a lot of hype? I see. Ok, let's go see it so I can slam it in a fun review. We go to the theater to get tickets, arrive just after it sells out, and wait around for two hours for a later show. Our tickets are taken and we get in line. Before long, the line has gone all the way to the side exit and looped around back to where it started. "What the hell is the big deal about this movie?" my brain asks. "Fuck if I know," I reply. Finally, we go in, get our seats, and it starts.

No intro, no credits, no title. It begins with a message saying that the footage is owned by the Department of Defense and was recovered from the area formerly known as Central Park. The rest of the less than 90 minute movie is said footage, shot on a normal guy's handheld camera. Most of it is footage of a giant monster attack on New York.

But this is not your ordinary "monster movie." The best part of it is that it was shot in the way it was. It puts you right up next to the main characters, and it just feels entirely real. Cuts occur when the camera would have been paused, and previous footage is shown when the camera would have been fast-forwarded too far. Some people might complain that the camera was too shaky; a few people even said it made them sick. To be honest, though, I don't think it could have been done any other way and still been good. It works incredibly well, and it's just one of those things you have to see to understand, and for your own sake, see this one in a theater.

Largely as a result of this technique, Cloverfield is intense. All night I've been trying to think of a more intense movie that I've seen lately, and I just can't think of any. The best part is, it doesn't rely on cheap thrills like so many other horror/disaster movies. It just puts you in the shoes of the main characters, and it works extremely well. Sure, there are a few "oh shit" moments, but even they fit well; nothing feels like it was tacked on just for shock value. Again, it really makes you feel like you're right there.

Another thing that helped a lot was that there were no big name actors (that I noticed) in the movie at all. Having a recognizable actor in a movie is a big distraction, and this was not the one to do it in. And better still, the acting is fantastic. Every character is wholly believable, and nothing is overdone; even the scenes of desperation have a realistic feel to them. The audience's reactions to this film were some of the most pronounced I've ever heard in a theater.

Ok, now that I've gone on a big rant about the realism of the film, it's time to talk about what isn't real. It's not perfect. The visual design is done in such a way as to make it look like it was done on a handheld camera, and overall it's extremely convincing. In a few scenes, though, there's just a bit too much light, or slightly too perfect contrast, which indicates artificial lighting in some scenes. Luckily, it's not overdone and the vast majority of the scenes look just how they should. The biggest problem is in the sound design. The microphone on a small handheld camera is almost always very small, and in the midst of the enormous sounds and screams going on all over the place, it would often get distorted. What you actually hear is very clear. I understand the design choice as hearing a ton of static every few seconds wouldn't make for such a cinematic experience, but just a touch of it in some places would do a lot for the realism. Also, in one or two scenes, you can hear what the main characters are saying very clearly when in reality, it should all just be a jumbled mess considering what's going on all around. I mean, yes, it's important to the plot and everyone would want to know what they were saying, but a lot of the realism comes in the fact that you really don't know much about what's going on.

Really, that's about all I could complain about in this one. It's extremely well-done overall, and it creates one of the most intense and realistic experiences I've ever seen. Such an original and ambitious idea certainly deserves a lot of credit. Judging by the sell-out crowds, I think it's going to do well. What we have to watch out for is overdoing it. If the success of Cloverfield generates a surge of similar films, I will be pissed off. This movie is a statement for originality in a number of ways; let's not ruin the idea.

I keep thinking I'm going to get to review a terrible movie. I realized that I have yet to rate a movie at less than three stars on this blog. Usually, I hesitate to give a movie more than two and a half, unless I really think it deserves it. What can I say? I'm thoroughly convinced that Cloverfield deserves it. Like any movie that exists or ever will, it's far from perfect, but when I look at this one as a whole, I can't help but feel that it went above and beyond what we think of as a film and truly succeeded. Some people would argue with me forever on this, but when I think of how this movie made me feel as I was watching it and even now that I'm only looking back on it, I see no alternative. For these reasons, I proudly bestow upon Cloverfield my very rare five star rating. Go see it.

Caius's Rating: 5 stars

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