Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CLOVERFIELD: Godzilla for the New Millenium

Back in 1998, I remember going to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, when the surrounding parking lot had not yet been turned into Los Angeles' best movie complex, The Arclight, to see the summer's most anticipated movie, 'Godzilla'. Directed and produced by the creators of 'Independence Day', it seemed like a sure fire hit.

I remember sitting in the theater and the crowd was fired up, watching trailers for films like 'The Mask of Zorro' and other upcoming action adventure movies. Then the lights went down for the main feature. The crowd roared when it saw the word 'Godzilla' on the screen. It was downhill from there. Not only did the creature look wrong, it was running through Manhattan like a scared salamander who lost its way out of the pond. It wasn't scary, the cgi work was disappointing and Matthew Broderick was the hero?

Flash forward 10 years later, and the new film 'Cloverfield' has figured out how to do 'Monster takes Manhattan' right. From the feverish mind of creator JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost, Mission Impossible III) and director Matt Reeves, comes a tale for the You Tube generation.

A group of 20 somethings are at a going away party in lower Manhattan for a friend moving to Japan, when they're rocked by what they think is an earthquake. It turns out to be a giant, pissed off monster that is destroying Manhattan. One of the friends is trapped uptown in her apartment that has been ravaged by the beast, so a small squadron of friends set off to rescue her.

One of the friends was assigned to record 'good luck' testamonials at the party on camera, so he takes the camera with him to chronicle their adventure. This lends the film the shaky camera style that we've all become accustomed to over the last view years, giving it a bit more feel of authenticity. However, the usher at the theater said that some people have watched the film and have suffered from motion sickness, and offered a refund within the first 30 minutes of the feature if anyone came down with that illness while watching.

'Cloverfield' is a fast paced, short (84 minutes including 10 minutes of credits) thriller that clearly succeeds where Godzilla didn't, on a much smaller budget, 25 million versus 80 million. The monster isn't scared, it's upset, and clearly committed to making Manhattan America's largest parking lot. The cast is a group of unknowns who do the best they can with the sketchily written roles, but they do a nice job of involving you in their personal story before the monster attacks.

Special Effects are impressive, it takes awhile before you get a good look at the monster, which is a good thing, because the quick glances as it darts around buildings makes the anticipation that much more intense. While I'd be hard pressed to call 'Cloverfield' scary, it is a well done, somewhat innovative thriller.

It's said that movies tend to reflect the tenor of the times. For example, in the Reagan era, we had the agressive symbolism of Stallone as 'Rambo' and Arnold in 'Commando'. Now in these uncertain, anxious times, due in no small part to the events of 9/11, we have the unsettling experience of yet another foreign invader to our shores, only this time it's one we can see, even if we can't stop it.

1 comment:

Max said...

I went and saw a matinee yesterday and thought I had prepared myself for the potential motion sickness. I was really jazzed for a big monster movie. Ten minutes in I was woozy, twenty minutes in my stomach was tightening up; once the cold sweats started and the burping began I had to leave at just under the one hour mark - WHEN THINGS WERE REALLY STARTING TO COOK! The wife stayed behind and successfully endured, but I had to sit outside in the air and let thing settle back down. So sad because I was really digging the movie, the concept, the whole package. When I got home I bittorrented a handheld camera version that completely sucked, so I'll have to wait for the DVD version when I can pause, catch my lunch, and then resume. The screenwriter described the idea as an "ant's eye view" of the monster. I wish all ants had motion stabilizers.