Tuesday, August 26, 2014


It was sometime around July of 2007 when a friend of mine, along with his son, wanted to go seeTransformers.  Now, I wasn’t a big fan of the cartoon or toy line, but my friend was and, even more importantly, his kid was as well.  I didn’t want to let the little guy down and said I’d go along with them to watch the movie.  We all know how that film turned out—some of us knew what it would be way before seeing it on screen—but some people, like my friend and his son, loved it.

Why am I talking about theTransformers movie I saw seven years ago?  Well, that’s when I first saw the trailer for JJ Abrams new—well…new at the time—movie,Cloverfield.

Now, this trailer made a big splash even though it was just a teaser and didn’t show much of anything besides the decapitated head of The Statue of Liberty careening from the night sky to land in some street.  But it wasn’t what we saw—or didn’t see—in that short trailer, it was the lack of a title.  Basically, the trailer began, showing some destruction with people screaming and yelling, then the head landing and rolling to a stop.  The odd thing about it?  Where usually a title will pop up, showing the name of the movie, there was only a date: 1/18/2008.

Now, this trailer caused quite a stir throughout the geek community, as well as exciting fans of JJ Abrams…and even myself.  I was sitting there, floored, and wanting to see that movie.  Being so intrigued and fascinated by it, I didn’t want to sit through the Transformers movie at that moment.  Well…I didn’t want to sit through it in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.

During the rest of that year, the internet went wild with scenarios and speculations about what this movie could be about.  One big one was that the film was going to be a retry at Godzilla or something to do with the “Lost” television show.  Most sites analyzed the trailer, frame-by-frame, trying to pick out aspects and details, zooming in and showing these pictures continuously throughout the web.  Then the theories and guesses as to what the title was going to be started making the rounds.  I’ll give Abrams this—he really set the World Wide Web abuzz with this little trailer.

Of course, viral sites started popping up, coming out with static-filled videos that starred some unknown individual who gave out clues about the upcoming film.  I don’t know if these videos were made by the studio or filmmakers, or if it was just some nerd out there with too much time on his or her hands. 
Nevertheless, the attention this upcoming film had garnered was interesting and helped it tremendously.
Finally, it was revealed—at least the title was—and fans became even more excited, chomping at the bit to see this movie (myself included).  We saw more of an in-depth trailer and a title was given—Cloverfield.

Although I was excited to see this film, there was one thing that concerned me and that was the choice for Abrams to have this filmed as a found-footage type of movie.  In my opinion, the found-footage genre came and went withThe Blair Witch Project back in 1998, so I was worried it was going to be a disadvantage to this film.  I’ve always had a concern when it comes to films that use this technique, because what the characters do with the camera throughout the story never makes perfect sense.  But I waited patiently and tried not to be prejudiced in any way towards this film until the day it arrived.

The film opens with Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), setting up a surprise going-away party for his brother, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), all the while using a camcorder to film everything.  Once at the apartment where the party is to take place, Mike gives the camera to their friend, Hud (T.J. Miller), to film the party and having everybody leave a personal goodbyes to Rob.  Soon after Rob arrives, and after a blowout with a former girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman), sudden rumblings are felt and blasts are heard, leading everyone to the roof to see what’s going on.  In the distance, the partygoers see large explosions and feel more quakes, frightening them all to run downstairs to the ground floor.  All the while, as Hud is filming, everyone sees something enormous crash through the buildings in the distance and starts running for cover, trying to get away from the threat.

I’ve got to say, before getting any further into this review, the best way to watch this film is in the theater or if you have a big screen television with some great sound.  You’ll definitely lose some of the excitement and enjoyment if you see this on anything less.  But even if you’re still living in the dinosaur age of TV viewing, you can still appreciate the film for what it gives you and that’s unrelenting thrills. 

So, I mentioned the found footage aspect of the film and thought it might’ve been a detriment.  I was wrong…the first person perspective was exactly what this film needed.  You actually feel you’re right there with the main characters, running from this monstrous menace and trying to steer clear from it.  Although it’s clear the concept was intended to keep special FX costs down as the camcorder filming avoids looking at the creature too long.  However, it’s easy to believe that the characters wouldn’t want to just stop and gaze at this giant monster, but move their ass as far away from it as possible, so it’s not totally noticeable.

On the other hand, this type of filming leaves the door wide open for disbelief, making it very difficult to suspend it while watching the movie.  I mean, who would video record all that time while some colossal beast was terrorizing the city, threatening your life in the process?  Wouldn’t any sane person drop the
camera and run for their lives?  I know I would.  Also, that camera appeared to be filming for an hour or so already, before the creature appeared in the city.  We see Jason filming while he and his girlfriend are buying food and drinks for the party, then Hud takes over the camera before Rob shows up, then all those scenes running from the monster…?  By movie time, that camera was recording for at least three or four hours.  How did the battery last so long?  Especially when the light was being used most of the time…that camera should’ve died out before the commotion in the city.  Also, most people would be more pissed off than the characters in this film when Hud continues to record at very inappropriate times.  Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had people rip video cameras out of my hands and shut them off because they felt I was overdoing it.  So, for Hud to get no flak for recording as much as he did seems a little hard to swallow.

Though, if you can set aside those criticisms for the found footage style of filming, the film is very engaging and doesn’t lose the viewer.  The story gets going right away and once we’re in motion, it becomes a roller coaster ride of crazy thrills.  From the quick views of the weird monster to the main characters trying to get to another individual by way of climbing up a leaning skyscraper, your nerves will be on high alert, waiting to see what the filmmakers will throw at you next.

The special effects are pretty magnificent with no obvious fakery going on.  Even though you don’t see much of what’s happening, as a lot of the action is implied, what you dosee is spectacular.

Director Matt Reeves really made a name for himself with this film, going on to direct Let Me In and, most recently, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  He’s certainly a great director with a good future ahead of him.
Finally, as I talk about the best thing I loved about this movie is the end credits.  The whole movie doesn’t feature a music track (besides the music you’ll hear during the party scene), but there’s one hell of a theme that you’re going to hear at the very end.  What conjured up in my head is perfect music for a monster movie.  Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

My final “bit” on Cloverfield?

Besides my gripe about this movie being a found footage motif, I really liked it.  I have no problem suspending my disbelief on certain things, so I can enjoy the film as a whole and I think you’ll feel the same.  It doesn’t take long for the story to get started, only lulls for a bit at the beginning to set up the tension between the main character and his love interest, giving him a reason to get to her, so it doesn’t disappoint.  If you haven’t seen this film, you shouldn’t miss it.  Basically, any film that JJ Abrams is involved in should be trusted that it’ll be entertaining.

As a side bit, make sure to pay attention to the final footage, where the film reverts to what was covered as we see Rob and Beth at Coney Island.  All I’ll say is watch the sky behind them and you’ll see what most people believe is the genesis of the monster.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

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