Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#1,436. Cloverfield (2008)

Directed By: Matt Reeves

Starring: Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan

Tag line: "Some Thing Has Found Us"

Trivia: The rats used in the tunnel scene were specially-trained and colored with a dark, charcoal-like substance to give them the appearance of wild, dirty tunnel rats

I was blown away the first time I saw the teaser trailer for the 2008 found footage-style monster movie, Cloverfield. Clocking in at around 90 seconds, the teaser opens with a home video of a party being held somewhere in New York City. Suddenly, the ground shakes, and the lights flicker on and off. According to TV news reports, an earthquake just rocked the city, but when the revelers head up to the roof to get a look at what’s going on, they see a massive explosion in the distance, which sends debris hurtling through the air. Frightened and confused, the guests rush down the stairs and out into the street, where hundreds have already gathered. We then hear what sounds like a muffled roar, and watch as the severed head of the Statue of Liberty crashes through a building before landing in the middle of the road. At that point, the trailer ends, never once mentioning the title of the film. But to be honest, the title didn’t matter. This was a picture I had to see.

The party, it turns out, is for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who’s recently accepted a position as Vice President of a major corporation headquartered in Japan. With Rob set to leave for Asia the next day, his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and good friend Hud (T.J. Miller) invite some of Rob’s pals to an impromptu farewell bash. It’s while Hud is videotaping the guest’s goodbye messages for Rob that the events presented in the teaser occur. With the video camera still running, Hud (now on the street with everyone else) sees what appears to be a giant creature in the distance, which is heading in their direction. Deciding the best course of action is to leave the city, Rob, Jason, and Hud, along with Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and party guest Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), make their way through the crowded streets, dodging both the monster and the U.S. Military, who are doing everything the can to stop the colossal beast before it destroys New York. But when Rob receives a frantic phone call from Beth (Odette Annable), a friend with whom he’s had a romantic fling, saying she’s trapped in her apartment, the group decides to head back into the city to save her. But will they reach her in time?

Most giant monster films, from Godzilla to the more recent Pacific Rim, put the emphasis squarely on the creatures themselves, giving little thought to the hundreds killed whenever a building is knocked over or a city block destroyed. With Cloverfield, producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves depart from the norm by focusing on the human survivors, tagging along with them as they look for a way out of the city. The result is a highly charged movie that relies more on strong characterizations than it does special effects. Fortunately, the film’s cast was up to the challenge, delivering performances that made this far-fetched premise seem totally believable (one scene in particular, where a character calls home to break some tragic news to their family, is handled flawlessly). Still, in spite of its focus, Cloverfield does occasionally show us the monster, and it is an impressive sight.

Though it had the makings of a summer blockbuster, Cloverfield was instead released in the U.S. in January of ‘08, normally a time reserved for movies the studios believe won’t generate much buzz. Taking everyone by surprise, Cloverfield made over $40 million its opening weekend, which, at the time, was a record for the month of January. So, along with being a damn fine flick, Cloverfield was a wake-up call for the studios, showing them that, if a movie is intelligent and entertaining enough, it’ll make money no matter when you release it!

1 comment:

bigwill said...

Love this film. The fact that the monster is fleetingly glimpsed makes it all the more terrifying. Interesting point about the focus on the individual human cost, you're spot on.
As a side note, I think it was that lack of focus that made me struggle to enjoy Man Of Steel - the wanton destruction with implicit loss of life was very uncomfortable and didn't feel like "Superman" at all. Christopher Reeve would never have stood for that!