Cloverfield

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Cloverfield
Review (5/10)
(By Tak Yamashita)

2008 looks like a very promising year for movies and, while I'm not sure how many movies I'll be seeing by the end of this year, there are four on my list that I rate as must-sees. Needless to say the caped crusader and the man with the fedora are on that list but in addition to a certain little animated robot the other movie on my list is a movie by one of the hottest and talented producers around right now. That movie is Cloverfield by J.J. Abrams.

First off, the story. We are first introduced to the main characters during a going away party for Robert Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) who is leaving for, appropriately enough, Japan. There we learn that he just slept with his best 'girl' friend, Beth and things are, well, a little complicated right now. Just as he's going over those events with his best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) and brother Jason (Mike Vogel), an explosion rocks the city and the friends try to rescue Beth while at the same time they slowly discover the tragedy that is afflicting the city.

Ultimately the movie can be broken down into two concepts: the PREMISE and the GIMMICK.

The PREMISE is J.J. Abrams creating a monster along the lines of the classic Godzilla, but one that is made for the U.S. audience but with an added twist of having the film run from a 'first person' perspective rather than the traditional monster-centric view of most films of this genre.

The GIMMICK is that it would be delivered using a handheld video recorder so they could really punctuate the first person experience. I'm sure you've heard the comparison to "Blair Witch" meets "Godzilla". Well, that's certainly accurate though I would stretch it to the "Blair Witch" meets "Godzilla" meets 9/11 meets "Aliens".

The premise is great, although it really doesn't live up to its full potential, and Abrams and co. do a good job of leaving some frayed edges that really add to the movie. However, in the end the movie fails because, despite the fresh new look at the genre, it's ultimately overwhelmed by the gimmicky use of a handheld that leaves you with a true sense of nausea. With a run-time of around 90 minutes, it's a pretty short movie by today's standards, but then that's probably a good thing since it took me just as long to get over my general nausea. If the movie was any longer I might have left a little something on the floor. Next to watching Se7en from about 2 rows away and watching The Color Purple and Mississippi Burning back to back this might be the biggest headache I've ever had at the end of a movie. Actually, I take it back. This is the greatest sense of nausea I've ever felt at the end of any movie.

Some people who saw the movie were talking about how great it was because it was soooo non-Hollywood and how 'real' it was. Well frankly, that's a load of crap. While the premise lent itself to that possibility, the ultimate storyline (of friends looking to rescue another) was as standard as you can get. You could even argue that the weak storyline actually tied things up too cleanly.

I'd rather have seen a movie that looked at the situation from multiple views and how each of them approached this disaster. You still could have used 'real' footage but looked at it from, say, a cop looking to help people and having that captured on his patrol car's camera. Or a shopkeeper and their response to the crisis (maybe he locks the door or maybe he tries to get people to safety) all captured on a security camera. Or possibly a reporter and her quest for the story. Or maybe even some archival footage of a meeting of some army generals and how they want to respond to the crisis. A multi-linear approach delivered under the unforgiving eye of the lens would have been a fascinating approach. Instead we got a typical cookie-cutter storyline with a linear beginning and end where everyone is beyond heroic. That actually took away from the realism that they were trying to accomplish.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a huge fan of the big monster genre with the original "Godzilla" being at the pinnacle of it all. And with it being slim pickings recently with the over-rated "King Kong" remake and horrendous "Godzilla" remake, I was really looking forward to this movie. And while I think that certain aspects of the movie will hit a chord with a targeted group of movie-goers, I think it'll be a bit too nauseating for the general public to stomach.

The acting was solid overall. Not Oscar-worthy, but well delivered and very earnest. Odette Yustman (Beth) is ridiculously attractive and I can see her being the next 'IT' girl. One suggestion: If you do see this movie, whatever seat you normally sit at, go 10 more rows back. If you're the type to get sea sickness, make it 15. Trust me. The special effects were great and were seamlessly integrated with the handheld style. That is one tough handheld. I've cracked a lens on mine just dropping it a couple of feet. That one survives through hell and back. Great marketing campaign and I'm sure this movie will do very well at the box office. There is a little something at the end of the credits but probably not enough to really keep you there. After watching the movie, wait about 30 minutes before operating any heavy machinery. Side-effects may include potential vomiting, nausea and headaches.

Trailer

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