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Friday, January 18, 2008


So I took the day off to see CLOVERFIELD, the new giant monster flick that's shot from the POV of a guy recording a titanic critter's rampage through New York City, and had perhaps the most unique experience I've yet had during a lifetime of moviegoing.

I showed up at the theater on Forty-Second Street — one of the new multiplex monstrosities that supplanted the row of lovely grindhouses from back in the days — for the 11:30AM show, met two friends, and went in search of seats. It was the first show of the day so there were very few people in the place, a pleasant happenstance that would not have occurred if I'd seen it at the multiplex near to me in Brooklyn, a place overrun every single day with drunks, indifferent parents shepherding gaggles of loud and unruly under-tens, the unemployed, kids ditching school, and the kind of "ghetto" audience that makes one embarrassed to be of any race.

The trailers soon began to run — including the awesome trailer for this summer's upcoming IRON MAN and a teaser for the next STAR TREK flick — and, strangely, the final two trailers even ran twice. Never had that happen before...

And then the movie started. There were no credits and the film just abruptly began, some text identifying the film as a classified bit of footage chronicling an event codenamed "Cloverfield." The handheld footage then begins, and about five minutes in the camera is handed to a lunkhead who's forced into being the videographer of a surprise party being thrown as a farewell to a yuppie — the more-or-less protagonist — who's leaving Manhattan to take a vice-president's position at his company's Japanese office. The (intentionally) inept cameraman captures the dynamics you'd expect from a downtown party, right down to the uncomfortable moments of friends and lovers fighting, getting drunk, and annoying each other, all within an apartment that would probably hold a market value of a couple mil (a la FRIENDS). This goes on for about fifteen minutes and then an unexplained giant monster strolls onto lower Manhattan, knocking a grossly under-scale Statue of Liberty's noggin onto Spring Street. From there it's a non-stop document of what it would be like if you were smack dab at ground zero when Godzilla showed up unannounced.

I'd like to be able to tell you more and give you something resembling a critique of CLOVERFIELD, but I can't. You see, the handheld photography gave me a raging migraine by about ten minutes in (just after the party footage began), and by about forty minutes in I was suffering from acute motion sickness, so much so that I hurriedly left my friends in the dark, hauled my ass to the men's room, and promptly threw up my breakfast. After voiding my stomach I left the theater, returned to the Vault and, still queasy, laid down on my bed until my wooziness passed.

So I didn't see the whole film. Forty minutes. That's it.

What I can tell you is that the flick's not bad by any means, nor is it great, stocked as it is with pretty and vapid types who would be right at home on any given CW network show, but as a giant monster junkie I couldn't help but love the film's POV concept. Unfortunately the motion sickness drove me from the theater before I could even get a really good look at the monster; I did get to see glimpses of random parts of its body and a brief look at its enraged face, but not enough to give me a clear picture of just what the fuck it is, and the giant monster fan in me weeps at having missed out.

So since I can't fairly say that I've seen CLOVERFIELD in its entirety I'm turning over this review to my old pal Mark G., a man who, if I had waited for another minute before leaving, would have been adorned in a kilt composed of a partially-digested Egg McMuffin. He knows his shit, and when it comes to having anyone fill in for me as a qualified guest reviewer Mark is right at the top of my very short list. Here's what Mark had to say:

CLOVERFIELD, a spoiler free recap.

Just got back from an afternoon showing of JJ Abrams' Cloverfield. Let me start with some disclosures. I don't watch LOST, so I'm not really an Abrams fanboy . I am however a huge fan of giant monster movies, particularly the Japanese (best) kind, and I think the American remake of GODZILLA is an absolutely horrific abomination of the cinema.

With that out of the way, I've got to say that I enjoyed CLOVERFIELD. I'm pretty happy with what I saw, and generally pleased with the movie as a whole. The biggest hurdle for the average viewer is definitely going to be Abrams' choice to show the entire movie through handheld video footage. It's a strong choice stylistically, and it sets the tone of the film as an intimate chronicle. It also means it looks like it was shot by an epileptic drinking Jolt Cola and doing lines of cocaine a lot of the time. Lots of shaky camerawork and grainy footage can make it hard to focus, especially when accompanied by booming sound effects. This film will definitely induce headaches in certain viewers, but I have to applaud the director's choice to present the film this way.

It's also a pretty bold choice to make a movie about Manhattan getting fucked up in the wake of 9/11. In an earlier post on the Vault, El Buncho questioned how New Yorkers in particular would feel about seeing their fair city under siege once again. There are definitely scenes that echo 9/11, particularly one of a building collapsing and a wall of dust rushing to engulf passersby, and a mass exodus on the Brooklyn Bridge. These are scenes that will jar unpleasant memories of that day for certain viewers. Cops and Firemen are not going to be rushing out in droves to see this film, and I can say with complete confidence that I think this film could trigger post traumatic stress syndrome in some viewers. But I don't think Abram's uses this point of view as a cheap gimmick; to me it was more of a commentary on the immediacy of events in this age of information, and it has an almost viral quality.

Since I'm not giving away anything by saying the Statue of Liberty gets beheaded, what struck me about that scene was the footage of people whipping out cell phone cameras to snap shots of the decapitated head as it lay in the middle of the street. Nothing that happens in CLOVERFIELD is that different from any other giant monster movie, except in the perspective. This is a movie about a monster attacking a city as seen through the people fleeing from it. That alone is interesting to me, like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, except that you actually get to see the monster and it's actually frightening. The creature itself is pretty cool looking, but that's all I'm going to say. My biggest fear was that it was going to look corny, like the Americanized iguana/alien/zilla did. Its origins are kept ambiguous, which I liked. We can presume it rose from the sea, covered in small crustacean like creatures that fall off it and attack people as it lumbers around. Abrams uses them sparingly, but their presence adds to the sense of chaos since it's not simply a matter of avoiding the giant monster; it brought some nasty parasites up from the deep with it too.

I feel a bit guilty saying this, but the destruction of NYC looks great. REALLY great. Strangely enough with all the hype surrounding the trailer for this movie, there's never any mention of Slusho (we do see a Slusho t-shirt and not so subtle Nokia product placement), nor do we ever find out what job our protagonist Rob is even moving to Japan for. Personally I found the whole Japan angle to be a subtle nod by Abrams to the Japanese kaiju film genre. This film is the film the American GODZILLA should have been. Abrams gives us a monster, and not some lame ass puff of smoke either. And for the record, Godzilla or Gamera would have kicked the Clovermonster’s ass from here to Hoboken.

"Aaargh! I'm gonna HURL!!!"


Dave said...


Too bad you had such a violent reaction to the handheld camera (though the image of an Egg McMuffin kilt makes me giggle). Hopefully you'll be able to get through it when it comes out on DVD. I just got back from the first show at my local theatre, and I was really impressed by all the bold choices Abrams made: POV camera, no 'stars', following a single group of people through the whole thing, and the ending. I won't give it away, but I thought it was the perfect way to end such a non-Hollywood film.

John Bligh said...

Threw up??? Threw up?!?!!?!

Hope your dress is still clean and dainty.


Anonymous said...

The shaky handheld camera work in Cloverfield gave me some really bad motion sickness, and I have never felt physically sick watching a movie in the theater before. There were moments I wanted to vomit. I kinda expected the movie would be either REALLY GOOD or REALLY BAD, but I did not account for getting dizzy throughout the whole thing.

About a minute into the movie I knew I was I trouble. When the first scene started with a normal situation and the guy holding the camera couldn't steady it enough... it gave me a bad feeling. Then we see some love/romance/relationship crap with these young couple and I thought: "Oh no, are they trying to stick a love story subplot into a giant monster movie? That is not necessary!" (But it turned out the Love Story was the main plot and the Giant Monster was the subplot.)

The movie was trying to create realistic atmosphere for a Giant Monster attack, but there were actions and reaction that were completely unreal to how people would react under those circumstances.

The dialogues were written like movie dialogues (came across like a typical romantic comedy). Most were used to explain the romance subplot, character relationships, and inner thoughts. That is not how real people speak.

When the first tremor began, the news reported an earthquake, but immediately people ran up to the roof to see what's going on. People usually run down and not up when hearing of an Earthquake.

The motivation for all the character were fuzzy. They were a bunch of unlikable yuppies and did a lot of stupid sh*t.

You're never really too sure why that one girl (who exploded later) decides to tag along with them. She didn't even know the main character or his friends that well. And she said she saw the Monster eating people, so she should've taken off in the opposite direction instead of going with them.

They walked in the 6 train subway tunnels from Spring Street to 59th Street without encountering any station in between. That is about an hour walk and should have come across 10 stations.

You're gonna tell me that camera has a light and night version, and recorded for over 12 hours but somehow don't have a steady cam feature?

The monster and the critters were on screen for about 5 minutes. And that is just unacceptable for an 1:30 minute film. For a Giant Monster flick, it was NOT satisfying.


Chez said...

Damn. I was so hoping for your complete take on this. I honestly figured you'd hate it given that there annoyingly self-important NYC hipsters and gorgeous people got more facetime than the giant sea monster. A very admirable non-Hollywood Holywood movie though.

I posted something about it, succint and punch-line laden though the column may be.

Feel free to take a look man.

Anonymous said...

Um, Chi - please hold back on spoilers for your next review? Thanks.

And about the "unacceptable" monster face-time: it's not about the monster, dude - it's about the people.

Bunche: What you describe is the reaction lots of folks had to Blair Witch. Good thing you DIDN'T see that one in the theatre, or you'd hate it even more! :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous, I was hoping to save people from seeing this piece of crap.

And if I want to see a film about "people", I had dozens of other movies to choose from in the same multiplex.

Declan Shalvey said...

Hey Bunche,

So in summary; CLOVERFIELD. So good, it made me wanna puke.

Thanks for the review. Really lookin forward to this, and good to know it doesn't suck donkey-balls.


Anonymous said...

Dear Chi,

Anonymous is right, Spoiler alerts are simple courtesy. Next time please warn people if your post is going to reveal a plot point.
Some of us might not want to be "saved"

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

This is EXACTLY what I was afraid would happen if I went and saw this movie. Thanks for taking one for the team.