Friday, June 06, 2008


If you enjoy seeing privileged, narcissistic people in their 20s who live in New York City getting killed in a disaster caused by a huge lizard that sheds blood-sucking spider-like creatures that attack in darkened subway tunnels and whose poisonous bite causes the victims to explode, then see Cloverfield (2007). However, take Dramamine first—the film was shot in the same style as Blair Witch Project. It induces nausea.

The film in its own way is effective. Many disaster films offer sweeping panoramic views of the carnage. This one takes the perspective of individual victims—indeed, the film's point of view is that of a video camera held by one of the characters, who is documenting a going-away party for a friend. The result of this narrow, limited perspective is that we as the audience are placed in the position of the participants. We see only what they see, know only what they know. The film cheats a bit, however. When the disaster first begins, characters learn about it from television news reports, and later in the film a television report fills in missing information. Of course, there is also the kind of information people pass back and forth on the streets. But mostly we are limited to the views and knowledge of the characters, and to an extent we sense their helplessness, fear, and confusion as a result.

Style and method make this film interesting—the story itself is just another version of Godzilla. We have numerous scenes of soldiers and tanks and jet fighters shooting guns and artillery at the beast, dropping bombs on it--these are the scenes we've come to expect in this kind of film, though there are some strange and new perspectives here, and in the end Cloverfield is far more interesting for its style and method than most if not all of the other urban monster films.

This film is only 82 minutes long, and even that is too long. Opening scenes spend too much time on the going-away party, which lasts some twenty minutes. The party introduces the principal characters who will be caught up in the disaster soon to come. But it drags, and we could have made do with a shorter, more superficial introduction to characters who are, after all, pretty superficial.

The film itself is a film within a film, an artifact recovered by the American military. We are told in the beginning that what we are about to see was found in what was once known as "Central Park" but that is now part of an incident cryptically tagged "Cloverfield." The partygoer who films the party and then the developing disaster does not know how to use a video camera, so there are starts and stops in the jerky actions, missing moments, scenes shown out of order. As others have noted, it is fairly difficult to believe that the character with the camera would continue to use it as he and others run, creep, climb, and fall out of the sky in a helicopter. But the method itself, the point of view provided by the video camera, simulates the perspectives of the actual participants and victims in the disaster, and it serves well enough.

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