Saturday, February 02, 2008

Let’s face it. Most monster movies are complete shit. Even the original King Kong leaves me cold, featuring as it does bland characters and atrocious dialogue. But wait, it features a massive ape tearing shit apart. Isn’t that, like, totally awesome, dude? No, not really.

So does Cloverfield buck the trend of the shit monster movie? Well, it does and it doesn’t. I mean, the characters here are amazingly bland. I cared for them not one bit. And the dialogue is serviceable at best. It’s basically, ‘Let’s run!’ or ‘We’ve got to go back and find Beth!’ But because of the film’s central gimmick, the fact that it’s supposedly shot on someone’s digital camera, it ends up being a lot of fun.

The fun that’s to be had in the movie is from the tension that is generated by the way the movie is filmed – one camera, no music; the sound design is the score. An example is an excellent little sequence in a subway tunnel. It’s dark and we can hardly see. Yet we can hear something – the main monster sheds little monsters, so we know these little bastards are pursuing the characters. And so their reveal via one of the characters turning on the night vision on his camera delivers a bigger jolt that it ordinarily would.

And the use of the single camera makes ordinary scenes of death and destruction far more expressionistic. We see bits and pieces but we rarely get to see the full monty. Which in the case of a monster movie is actually a good thing – Godzilla and King Kong wreaking havoc is so ludicrous when viewed from a safe distance that it usually elicits yawns and laughs. So the single camera helps ground the film – to ensure that it doesn’t become one massive flight of fancy.

However, I just wish that the filmmakers had the balls to go all the way with the concept. I was perfectly happy only seeing pieces of the monster. But at the end we get the grand reveal. Yep, it’s not good. To picture the monster just imagine a massive frog-like mouse that has ape-like arms and which seems to have mated with an old man somewhere along the line. In all its glory, it looks terrible. It really takes you out of the film.

And I also got fed up with the numerous endings. Oh, the helicopter’s crashed and they’re all dead? Okay, that’s pretty brave: a bleak ending. Oh, no, they survived. And here comes the monster and he’s killed one of the main characters. Okay, another decent ending: the cameraman is dead and the rest will lose their lives too. But no, someone else has picked up the camera and the film’s still going. Rather than end with a bang, the film ends with a splutter.

But to be honest, the film doesn’t start much better, either. The first twenty minutes or so revolve around a party where we get introduced to the main characters. And what a dull lot they are – lots of bland late twenty-somethings. There’s not one bit of fat anywhere. Not one ugly face. But there’s also no personality. Indeed, the charisma void is so chronic that I had no idea who had perished – someone called Jason dies and I was left scratching my head. And then later I found out that it was the hero’s brother who is quite prominent in the party sequence. Oh, okay.

But once the destruction starts there are some very enjoyable sequences. There’s a great bit where we see devastation in the distance and then the head of the Statue of Liberty comes bouncing off buildings before resting in the middle of the street. Finally we have a monster movie that isn’t up in the skyscrapers, watching from the heavens.

I also liked the street battle the characters get caught up in. For a brief moment it becomes like a war movie – the cameraman hiding behind a car as the army tries to take down its enemy. And there was something grimly enjoyable about the moment where one of the main characters, who’s been bitten by the little monsters the big monster sheds, is taken to a medical tent and we see the silhouette of her head exploding. The film is surprisingly violent in places.

But although the action is superbly done and the central gimmick works a treat, it’s still very traditional at heart. The main character is in love with a girl he’s been friends with for years. And because he’s leaving to go to Japan, they kind of have a fling. So when the shit hits the fan, you’re watching a guy go back into hell to rescue the woman he loves. Now this isn’t a film where you feel like there’s a deep emotional bond between the characters, so the central story is a bit of an eye-roller. Okay, you love this girl. Okay, you’ve spent a blissful morning in bed and you had a lovely day at Coney Island. But please could the pair of you just be a bit more than pretty. Please.

But rather remarkably, the main character climbs to the top of a tall building and from the roof jumps onto his love’s apartment block, a building that has fallen over and is resting diagonally against the neighbouring building. And in there he finds his girl with a rod sticking out of her shoulder. But because this is the movies, they pull it out, pick her up and escape. Hmm. Okay, giant monster: I can buy that. But this rescue takes things a bit too far.

However, this sequence does feature one of the film’s best images. Roaming through the streets we see a white horse pulling an empty carriage. Had the film concentrated a little more on the mundane than the fantastical, it could have risen in my estimation. (Another excellent shot is the brief glimpse we get of a headless Statute of Liberty.)

But as it stands, the film’s good entertainment. The action is well choreographed and the single camera works superbly. But it still can’t transcend the monster movie limitations. It’s still basically a bunch of idiots running away from a silly creature. Plus instead of a bunch of morons in top hats fleeing from an ape, we now have twats in khakis filming everything with their mobile phones. Yes, when the apocalypse happens it will be scored to a cacophony of obnoxious ringtones.

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  1. I want to know what make of Camcorder that guy had - it had good battery life and was damn sturdy!

  2. It's probably one of them newfangled ever-last, monster-proof, apocalypse-resistant handycams that Sony are releasing.

  3. Hey there, im using a work connection here so I'll keep it breif and Im not dicking around with logins etc...just wanted to say your reviews ROCK mate, i enjoy reading them. Please review David Fincher's recent Zodiac film if u get a chance, I'm dying to hear your views on that one. Cheers from Downunder, Tom