Thursday, January 17, 2008


Look at the Size of its Package!


You'd be expecting to hear a lot of that, but not to fret, the rest of this review is spoiler free, guaranteed! So we've weathered a six month wait since the teaser trailer premiered with Michael Bay's Transformers (and draws some parallels, more on that later), and set the net buzzing with its many viral marketing sites appearing online, some red herrings, some dangling treats for those who can't wait to guess just what the movie will be titled (well, just Cloverfield), and speculate on how the creature, if it was one, would look like.

In recent history, Hollywood had tried this stunt before. Remember the Godzilla of 1998? Audiences were teased with a tail here, a roar there, and the filmmakers pretty much had the monster kept under tight wraps. Until it opened, and because it failed to live up to its hype, and didn't meet everyone's expectations of how the good old Japanese lizard would look like and behave, it tanked at the box office. Now, Cloverfield adopted similar strategies in having us hear a roar, and to witness its destructive powers, without a visual clue of what it looked like. Did it deliver?

Strangely enough, in my opinion, yes. Don't get me wrong, as I was leaning toward, and close to committing the cardinal sin of loathing a movie prior to experiencing it for myself first hand. I was apprehensive about watching something that perpetually couldn't keep still, and yet its technique adopted in presenting the movie worked perfectly. Like Blair Witch Project, we witness a series of events as unfolded through the lens of a handheld consumer camera. In doing so, we forgo watching the movie from a third person perspective, and get plunged head on to first person instead. In this age of reality television, exclusive news scoops, youtube voyeurism, this shakycam technique works in putting us there where the action is, watching things unfold, raw.

Imagine, just if, a big unknown were to happen. You push and probe, and frankly, get scared, wondering what to do next, worry about your loved ones, and probably would just follow the masses. Cloverfield took a simple, tried and tested story about a monster invasion in the scale of Godzilla's, and played with us - what if we were caught in the same situation with the monster pounding everything in sight - what would we do? We take pictures for our blogs. Then run. It puts the focus on the microscopic behaviour and story of a select group of humans you see running away frantically in all those monster/disaster movies, the ones your eyes barely notice as you're transfixed to the larger than life sized creatures doing what they do best.

I would put my neck out even to say that there is no grounds of comparison between Cloverfield, and one of my recent monster movie favourite The Host, simply because it's like comparing apples and oranges. The latter decided to show all very early in the movie, and had a strong focus and emphasis on the family of characters. Here, we don't feel much for the yuppies, we somehow become one of them, the videocam being our eyes and ears. And the creature, while we don't see it in full glory clearly, makes it all the more menacing. It plays on actual fear - we catch a glimpse, then quickly run away - and I thought it made the 1998 Godzilla look like a pussy with so much unexplained, that this uncertainty breeds and grows within you.

But of course there will be some quick to dismiss this along the lines similar to those who dislike Transformers on the grounds that there isn't enough screentime for what mattered to them - "we're here to see robots/monsters, so give us the robots/monsters!" As mentioned, there are nice moments where we sneak a peek at the rampaging creature, but there will be those whose appetite remain insatiate. Bear in mind though the point here is to experience what it would be like if you're stuck in a similar situation yourself (wonder why this wasn't available in IMAX format), rather than watching in God mode, the narrative unfold in extended Starship Troopers style. And similar to Transformers, Odette Yustman is your new Megan Fox, except that she goes back to being the classic damsel.

Cloverfield, if it makes enough money at the box office, leaves plenty of room with multiple doors wide open to possibilities of spin offs, prequels, sequels, and probably even a television series, animated or live action, or through any other visual medium. You can essentially repeat the same premise, but from different points of view - trust me, there are enough - and can probably build an entire community of creative work just around this one simple flint to sustain a campfire.


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