Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

So I saw Cloverfield.

I'm not sure what I have to add to the other reviews I've seen of it. It's a giant monster movie and that makes it review-proof to a certain extent. We love the giant monster movies.

But this ain't no Godzilla. Or, maybe it is, but it's early Godzilla back when those movies had more of a point than just putting two giant monsters together and watching them fight. Don't get me wrong, watching giant monsters kill each other is an honorable past time, but it's even better when there's sort of a point and I always liked that there was a point Japan was making by creating Godzilla.

There's a point to Cloverfield too. A lot of reviewers have noticed the 9/11 similarity, but I think it goes beyond watching some buildings fall and smoke roll through the streets of Manhattan. There's also the focus on normal people who don't know what's going on and never truly understand the threat. The world experienced 9/11 together and everyone has their own memories and associations with that day, but none of us who weren't in New York City really got a taste for what that must have been like. We saw the images as they happened, but we processed them differently than we would have had we been there. By putting us in the first person, Cloverfield makes us process these images like we might have had we been in New York that day.

I've read criticism about the hokeyness of having the Statue of Liberty's head roll down the street, but really I can't think of a better metaphor for what it was like to watch the Towers fall. The Statue is such an icon and the first time I saw that head roll through on the trailer, I was stunned. It's a powerful scene and I wish it hadn't have been overexposed by the trailer, though I understand why it was.

It's also important to the 9/11 metaphor that the monster wasn't created by a scientific accident. That worked for the point Godzilla was trying to make about nuclear power, but for a commentary on terrorism, it's vital that the threat be mysterious. SPOILER WARNING. Even if you catch the clue to the creature's origin in the movie's last scene (I didn't, but it was described to me), you understand that the creature isn't something we made on accident. It's an invader. We don't know why it came, we just know that it came to hurt us. END SPOILER.

So, yeah. It's pretty cool on that level and I liked it. You never would have gotten me to watch a movie that depicted a straightforward version the 9/11 experience (I avoided both United 93 and World Trade Center, for instance), but use a giant monster as a metaphor and I'm there.

It's executed pretty well too. I liked the characters and it was especially nice to see Lizzy Capland from The Class and TJ Miller from Carpoolers, two of my favorite actors from two of my favorite sitcoms from the last couple of years. The other actors are also fine and Odette Yustman is heart-breakingly beautiful, especially in light of the early scenes showing her and her best friend Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David) on the day they first realized they were in love with each other. I totally bought that Rob would cross Manhattan to rescue her. I would have done it too.

Though the plot is simple (get across town to rescue Odette and then get out of Manhattan without being eaten), it does what it needs to, which is provide an interesting frame for all the imagery. And it's interrupted at all the right points for some good old monster-fighting action, so it's never boring.

I don't know that I'd want to sit down and watch it again right away though. I'd like to see that last scene again and catch what I missed before, but having satisfied my curiosity about that, I'm not sure there's much more to get from the movie. I'd recommend it to anyone to see once, and I'd even go with you if I didn't have anything else to do, but as much as I like the deeper theme, it ironically ruins the rewatchability of the movie for me. I guess it went too far in the direction of Having a Point and I would have liked it more and been more excited to see it again if Godzilla would've shown up to fight the Cloverfield creature. But that's just the way I roll.

Three out of five face-eating parasites.

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