Cloverfield

I loved it.

I won’t go into too much plot detail except to say this–it’s exactly what you think it is: a movie about a giant monster attacking New York filmed through a home video camera.

Cloverfield is one of those visceral movies where your preconceptions and your own life experiences will have a huge effect on your experience of watching it. Some critics have focused their reviews on the film’s use (many call it exploitation) of 9/11 imagery, with opinions running from considering it “tacky” to Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek’s claim that it “takes the trauma of 9/11 and turns it into just another random spectacle at which to point and shoot.”

I’m sure director Mark Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) had 9/11 in mind during the entire film process. Abrams has also said that Godzilla was the main inspiration for the movie, and there’s an important connection between the original Gojira (the first Godzilla movie) and Cloverfield. In the aftermath of Godzilla’s rampages, Gojira featured stock footage from WWII to depict the human suffering. As history professor William Tsutsui writes in his book Godzilla on My Mind, “the filmmakers always intended the film to be an antinuclear fable with a deadly serious message” (32). He quotes Gojira director Honda Ishir? as having said, “When I returned from the war and passed through Hiroshima, there was a heavy atmosphere–a fear that the earth was already coming to an end. That became the basis for the film.”

So Gojira was a monster movie rooted in a disaster that had a profound effect on a nation’s psyche. So, I would argue, is Cloverfield. What a film like Cloverfield does is allow an audience to experience the horror of an event like 9/11 without actually going through it, and with the knowledge that it’s just a monster movie.

Personally, I think there’s value in experiencing that sort of horror. It can provide one with perspective–if you know someone who went through 9/11, you may be able to understand what they went through a bit better–just a bit, but better–after seeing Cloverfield. Or if, God forbid, you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, you’ll have some idea what to expect and just maybe you’ll be a little more prepared to deal with it.

Now, obviously the above argument is debatable. But I don’t think Cloverfield‘s filmmakers were just trying to make the Jerry Bruckheimer movie adaptation of 9/11.

What makes Cloverfield unique in a crowded genre is that it tells the entire story from the perspective of those puny humans scurrying beneath the monster’s feet. The film isn’t about the monster, or the heroes trying to fight it. It’s about the people who are just trying to survive its rampage. That’s a perspective that is almost always ignored or glossed over in giant monster movies.

I’m not usually a fan of “home video”-style filmmaking, such as The Blair Witch Project, and I was concerned that I might get a little sick of it by the end of Cloverfield. Somehow, it didn’t bother me that much; and it certainly pays off when you see things like the head of the Statue of Liberty hurtling down the street. The use of the home video camera adds more realism to the proceedings than the highest-quality CGI graphics have ever done to a more mainstream-style blockbuster. And just wait until you see the monster…

In the end, Cloverfield is primarily a fun monster movie. There’s no real character development, no story arc, and unlike Gojira, there’s no greater meaning or allegory. Apparently, if you follow all the viral campaign material, there’s a vague message about corporate excess and pollution having brought the beast upon humanity, but that’s not in the movie. Whereas Gojira both referenced and made a commentary on what happened at Hiroshima, Cloverfield replicates the chaos, horror and destruction of 9/11 without looking for meaning in it.

Which is fine–that wasn’t the filmmakers’ project, and I think the only way you can be disappointed by that is if you were expecting an Oscar-worthy epic rather than a monster movie.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that your perception of Cloverfield will be related to your own experiences going in. If you or anyone you know were at ground zero on 9/11, you’re probably not going to enjoy this movie and you may think it’s exploitative. If you get dizzy easily or hate home-video-style films, you’re probably not going to enjoy it either. Heck, even those Lost fans who are hoping for all sorts of subtle clues and bizarre mysteries are going to be disappointed (unless they followed the viral campaign).

But if you love giant monster movies, as I do, then Cloverfield represents a new must-see film for the genre. Yes, there are monster movies with better stories and more to say (Gojira, The Host), but in terms of providing the sheer visceral thrills of a ground-level monster attack, Cloverfield stands tall.

And now, to get back on topic, here’s some really cool news:

HASBRO ANNOUNCES SPECIAL PRE-SALE OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES’ “CLOVERFIELD” MONSTER FIGURE

Pawtucket, RI – January, 21 2008 — Hasbro, Inc. (NYSE: HAS) brings to market the figure of one of the most tightly held secrets in recent Hollywood history: the “Cloverfield” Monster. Following the 1-18-08 theatrical release of Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot’s “Cloverfield,” fans will be able to order a highly detailed representation of the beast beginning today exclusively on www.hasbrotoyshop.com.

Standing at an imposing 14 inches tall, the creature that wreaks havoc on New York City in the film is immortalized as a super-articulated figure for fans and collectors alike. As with other beasts in the annals of great movie monsters, the creature in “Cloverfield” captures the imagination and tugs at the fears of thrill seeking moviegoers.

The party may be over when this beast comes to town, but the fright inducing look of the creature lives on from the creepy people-sucking underbelly to the swath of parasites the beast lets loose to hunt citizens of the ‘Big Apple.’ The figure also comes with two interchangeable heads, each depicting one of the Monster’s moods: calm or agitated. The head of the Statue of Liberty, the iconic image which made the film’s much buzzed about and analyzed trailer so eerie and intriguing, is also included.

“Hasbro is very excited to be working with Paramount and Bad Robot to bring to market a piece of the film for fans and collectors,” said Brian Goldner, COO of Hasbro, Inc. “The fan buzz on this film has been terrific and we are happy to take part in the excitement.”

The “Cloverfield” Monster from Hasbro is available now for pre-sale at www.hasbrotoyshop.com for an approximate retail price of $99.99.

If you’d like to take home your very own Cloverfield beast, just head on over to the Hasbro Toy Shop and fork over a Benjamin.

As for my thoughts…Hasbro, eh? Interesting choice…but perhaps the smaller toy companies were reluctant to take on such a gigantic figure after NECA’s many troubles with the Balrog. I wouldn’t be surprised if McFarlane tried to bid for it, but I don’t think J.J. Abrams didn’t want a barely-articulated statue–judging from the above description, he wanted the figure to be a true toy.

Hasbro has a track record of taking chances on large toys, so color me cautiously optimistic. If they can apply the same concern for quality as they do for the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe line, or maybe the ML Brood Queen BAF, then toy fans may be in for a pleasant (albeit expensive) surprise.

Comments now closed (12)

  • Finally, I'm glad someone else I know on the internet that likes the film and isn't happy ripping it to shreds.

    As far as the toy goes, I don't need it. Unless they made on that was to scale with my Godzilla figures so I can have Godzilla rip it a new one.

  • I'll wait to see pics to make sure it isn't terrible, but I partly want it just for the novelty of it…same reason I wanted the Balrog. Giant monster toys are cool.

  • I've said it elsewhere that Cloverfield would make a great double feature with Frank Darabont's adaptation of The Mist. And since Cloverfield never reveals the origins of it's monster, you can always imagine the two movies are tied into each other.

  • Thank you for not having spoilers about the monster. The press release… not so much. Grrr…

  • @ Paul- The Mist should be hitting dvd in a couple of months and I certainly recommend it. There are some cool ceature designs in that flick. And that ending…. 🙁

  • @Poe – Great review!!! You are correct that this was Abrams' reaction to 911. In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, Abrams talks about the imagery in the film and its connection to 911 and pretty much lays out that real horrors (of the 911 persuasion) often color our fictions. Whether intentional or not – Cloverfield was partly birthed by that tragic event.

    Of course, Godzilla was it's Daddy. He mentions that he was in Japan with his son (doing promo for Mission Impossible III) when they came across a boutique selling rows and rows of Godzillas. Being a huge fan of giant monster movies, Abrams said the idea of Cloverfied – told from the street level – took over his imagination right there.

    Of course, being a huge Lost fan, I always assumed the Cloverfield monster was the true guise of Lost's mysterious smoke monster.

    That's the other thing driving Abrams. He felt that America lacked an iconic monster of its own – something to give Godzilla a run for its money – and wanted to produce something the match the Big Guy. Based on your review, it sounds like he delivered.

    I know the netizens love to hype then tear down properties but I for one am looking forward to catching this flick. I'm a huge Abrams fan and really enjoy the entertainments he's spun over the years.

    To JPL – Abrams is rumored to have been given the blessing by Stephen King to bring his Dark Tower series to light. DT has some tenuous links to The Mist as well.

  • I truly enjoyed Cloverfield. Its a good movie's movie. It hit all the nails on the head and didn't try to be something it wasn't or couldn't be. I was worried about it being another Blair Witch, but I was plesantly surprised. I walked out of that movie being thoroughly entertained and feeling like I got my money's worth, which is all I ask of any film I go see.

  • @ Poe: You know very well the people I associate with… the Wizard Universe Message Board population.

    Okay I kinda see where you're coming from.