There are a number of regular character archetypes that always seem to show up in monster movies. The streetwise reporter looking for the scoop of her career, the scientist with a crazy theory to prove, the hard arse soldier who wants to kick butt and chew gum (who may or may not be all out of gum). None of these are present in JJ Abram’s virally hyped Cloverfield project, and the movie is a richer, more fulfilling experience because of it.
Cloverfield was given the studio greenlight early last year, but Abrams, along with co-producer Bryan Burk, director Matt Reeves and scribe Drew Goddard managed to keep the lid on the film until they started to release various viral tid-bits. The first trailer was an enigmatic look at the films opening party, and related sites popped up all over – there’s Tagruato
, a fake Japanese drilling company; TidoWave
, an environmental group stating that mother earth was going to start fighting back; and more besides. Fan speculation went crazy insane, and theories as to what the monster was ranged from Voltron (thanks to a mis-heard line of dialogue) to Great Cthulhu himself.
But the big question is: Can you believe the hype? Is the film any good, or just a gimmick?
We saw the film last at a media screening, and let me tell you – when a cinema full of jaded reviewers starts to applaud at the end of a film, you know you’ve got something pretty damn cool.
It would be rude to go into too much detail – the film is built heavily on the audience not knowing too much about what’s going on. The sense of shock and surrealism when the monster shit does hit the fan is palpable, and made more so by the film’s early set up.
It begins, more or less, at a party to farewell Rob, who’s going overseas to work. To Japan, in fact. The premise is that one of Rob’s mates is recording the party with a digi-cam, getting testimonials from the people he’ll be leaving behind. Like the Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield is meant to be more of a document than a film.
The travails of these ordinary people are, well, ordinary, but quite involving nonetheless. Like any good disaster movie, the cause of the disaster is almost irrelevant – the planet crushing comet, the earthquake, or the giant monster only serve to throw the characters into an extreme environment, one that forces incredible decisions upon them. In that sense Cloverfield is a helluva movie – the connection you build up with Hud, the man holding the camera for most of the film, is quite deep and personal, and the other characters are fully fleshed out and believable. It makes the unbelievable scenario seem all too real, and elevates the entire film.
It doesn’t hurt that the monster is quite a unique creation – and pretty bloody terrifying to boot. You rarely see it completely, and shaky camera work helps pump up the suspense. The shots of a collapsing New York skyline are eerily reminiscent of 9/11 footage, too; clouds of smoke tumble through city streets and stunned citizens take camera-phone shots of the disaster. This is very much a film where the effects serve the film, not the other way round – Michael Bay, I’m looking at you.
Now that we’ve seen how JJ Abram’s handles one big screen project, we’ve got to admit that we’re that much more excited to now see how he handles his upcoming Star Trek film. It doesn’t help that, at least at our media screening, that the teaser for the film premiered as well – I know there are one or two budding Starfleet Officers out there, and let me tell you… it looks like it might be a good year to be a Trekkie.
Do see Cloverfield; it’s an outstanding take on the monster movie genre, kicking the shit out of the last Godzilla flick while also offering a poignant commentary on our modern, media obsessed, terrorist-phobic world. And the odd explosion and fighter jet attack don’t hurt none, either.