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 trailer for Cloverfield. Clocking in at just over 90 seconds, it opens with home video of a party at an unspecified location in New York City. Suddenly, the ground shakes, and the lights flicker on and off. 

According to news reports, an earthquake just rocked the area, but when the revelers head up to the roof to survey the damage, 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 into the street, where hundreds more 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 and lands directly in front of them. 

The trailer ends, never once mentioning the title of the film. But at that point, 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 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 farewell messages for Rob that the events in the trailer occur. With the camera still running, Hud (now on the street with everyone else) spots through the viewfinder what appears to be a giant creature in the distance, heading in their direction. 

Deciding it would be best to get the hell out of 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 giant creature and the U.S. military, which is doing everything in its power to stop the colossal beast before it destroys New York. 

But when Rob receives a frantic call from former girlfriend Beth (Odette Annable), who is trapped in her apartment, the group heads back into the city to save her. 

Most giant monster films - from the classic Godzilla to the more recent Pacific Rim - put the emphasis squarely on the creatures themselves, giving little thought to the hundreds killed when 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 survivors, tagging along with them as they look for a way out. The result is a highly charged movie that relies more on characterization 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, even with its focus on the human element, Cloverfield does occasionally show us the monster, and it is an awesome sight!

It had the makings of a summer blockbuster, yet Cloverfield was released in the U.S. in January of 2008, historically a month reserved for movies in which the studios had little faith. 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 Hollywood executives, showing them that, if a movie is intelligent and entertaining, it will 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!