Cloverfield is here. It has been a long and glorious wait, essentially six months worth of hype, anticipation, mystery and rumors. And you know what? Cloverfield lives up to the buzz.
Cloverfield, if you've been living in a cave, is the monster movie from producer J.J. Abrams. In reality, Abrams has been getting all the credit even though Matt Reeves, who really hasn't directed anything of significance other than a few episodes of "Felicity", is the credited director. Regardless, the movie is shot through some [very high quality] handheld cameras and follows a group of young people through Manhattan as they try to escape the island during an assault on the city by a gigantic, seemingly invincible creature. The movie doesn't try to explain where the creature came from and instead provides a snapshot of what ordinary citizens might experience if such a situation were to occur. In other words, Cloverfield is everything that Matthew Broderick's Godzilla should have been.
And let's get the record straight. Cloverfield is not about the Godzilla monster, despite some rumors to the contrary. The monster here is quite unique and pretty impressive. It's hard to pull off monsters without looking cheesy, but Cloverfield is particularly effective. The perspective of the film helps a lot, as the movie focuses entirely on its main characters and not on the monster itself. For much of the movie, you only see pieces of the creature from a distance or on the news. The result is a more believable feel to the film, not unlike what was seen in The Host last year (but a little more exciting).
Most importantly, Cloverfield is exciting. As soon as the monster first strikes, Cloverfield is a non-stop survival story. It moves at a breakneck pace and is consistently entertaining from beginning to end. The storytelling is relatively seamless, and basically it's just a blast. Whether the characters are trying to assess what's happening, rescue someone from a collapsed building, escape creatures in the subway system or are watching the military hit the monster with everything they have, Cloverfield is a thrilling good time.
As for the handheld camera approach, it's a mixed bag. If there's anything that could turn someone off Cloverfield, it's the camera work, though it's a matter of personal opinion. There are times where things get overly chaotic, and others where you really question why anyone would carry a camera around with them while running for their lives. Still, the handheld element compliments the film well enough. It isn't too distracting, and times plays to the film's benefit. I do wonder what Cloverfield would have been like with a more traditional approach, but that's not what we got.
Overall, Cloverfield defies expectations. I was worried the movie wouldn't live up to its hype, but it really does. Cloverfield is a lot of fun, and a pretty good movie to boot. This is definitely the way everyone wanted the 2008 movie year to begin.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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