Godzilla meets the MySpace generation in the shaky-camera monster flick Cloverfield. In the handheld style of film-making popularized by The Blair Witch Project, fans of the always welcome Monster Stomp City genre now have a modern version of the popular creature feature to crow about. From producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, MI3) comes one of the most tightly kept cinematic secrets in years. Was it worth the wait? Does Godzilla fear the marketing potential that is the irresistible force of nature called Godsuke?
Actually, even if you’re not typically into the monster fun of the Japanese important variety, there’s still much to get excited about in this re-imagining of the rubber suited mayhem. Directing from a script by fellow J.J. Abrams alumni Drew Goddard, Matt Reeves proves to be a capable first-time cinematic director and does his best Spielberg impersonation by smartly shielding the creature for most of the film. The decision to focus on documenting the destruction of New York City through the eyes of this little troupe works so much better than you’d imagine, and serves as a powerful counterpoint to your typical rubber-suit/CGI effects-filled monster film. It’s also a great commentary on the mindless narcissism that seems to plague this generation, as we’re presented with a group who finds themselves far more interesting than a giant bug stomping through the city.
It also helps that none of the actors are particularly interesting, or give notable performances. The film opens with a group of friends who’ve gathered to say goodbye to their leader, a particularly unlikable jerk who will soon jet off to (where else?) Japan and a new executive position. Much like a good Jackie Chan movie, I don’t walk into these things expecting Shakespeare and in that area Cloverfield doesn’t disappoint. A tacked-on and absurd love angle nearly derails the fun and treads dangerously in television soap opera territory (no surprise as the film was written by one of the writer’s behind both Buffy and Angel series), often making me hope the creature would stomp them all out of their (and my) misery.
At times I was nearly shouting at these idiots, baffled why they’d make such stupid mistakes while their safety was all but assured. But then again such a film requires such human fodder, and had this group escaped when the creature first started its assault there wouldn’t be much of a movie, just footage of the destruction. While I would have been perfectly fine with that, most moviegoers probably wouldn’t have been so it isn’t long before the paper-slim plot gives way to some seriously spectacular moments of destruction and remarkably effective terror.
But one has to wonder just where that terror comes from, as some of the imagery is frighteningly similar to anyone familiar with the abundance of footage documenting the events of 9-11. Horrific scenes of buildings collapsing, with smoky debris enveloping everything in its path is recreated nearly sacrosanct from video footage taken of the World Trade Center. Shouts of “terrorism!” and “we’re at war!” can be heard as the crowd snaps cell phone pictures of the severed head of Lady Liberty herself. Later the cameraman ponders if the creature itself might be a military experiment gone wrong, an implication that might suggest the Big Apple reaping what the United States sowed.
If any of this sounds remotely conspiratorial, just remember the original Godzilla film was itself an indictment against the United States use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2. Cloverfield wisely avoids making any direct allegations or implicit politicized views, but certainly there’s enough fodder here to satisfy the most strict isolationist, or novice conspirator. I’d be surprised if this one didn’t become required viewing for Ron Paul supporters…
Cloverfield works on any number of levels, and how you walk out of the film will largely depend on what you walk in with. Those looking for a fun Friday monster flick could certainly do much worse, as the film succeeds terrifically at inducing more than enough chills and thrills. Those seeking political validation will be interpreting this one for years, while the science-fiction fans have another classic to drool over (gotta love the Starship Trooper bug nods!).
But there’s little doubt that we’re witnessing next-generation filmmaking here, and given the cinematic history and adoration of the Monster Stomp City genre (and the various Godzilla/Gamera series) I’m surprised that we’ve never seen one done this way before. Sure Cloverfield is gimmicky and cheesier than a pound of cheddar, but somehow it all works and that was enough for me. It’s worth noting that while the film is largely silent, stay tuned after the credits start rolling for a superb orchestral track by the ingenious Michael Giacchino that brings key moments of the film to life. Great stuff.