Friday, 2 December 2016
Clovers and Shakers
USA 2008 Directed by Matt Reeves
Paramount Blu Ray Zone B
Cloverfield was a virally marketed, big monster movie directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J. J. Abrams. With the sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane (reviewed by me here) out earlier in the year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pay just £2 extra to grab it in a double movie set with the first film and upgrade my original to Blu Ray. I’d loved the first movie, as much as I enjoyed the sequel, and I wanted to rewatch the sequel with this first one still fresh in my mind. It has to be said, the last act of the sequel is making a lot more sense to me now I’ve refamiliarised myself with the original masterpiece.
The film is a hand held shot affair, with Hollywood in 2008 finally beginning to capitalise on the first person shooter genre of camerawork which was repopularised by The Blair Witch Project, nine years earlier. So seeing what is a big, special effects extravaganza of a big monster and various other nasty creatures rampaging and destroying Manhattan had a lot of novelty value when it came out... it was the first time, I think, when we’d seen fairly large, broad, epic tales captured in this POV stylistic vein.
Now, this is one of those movies which seems to split people straight down the middle between loving it and hating it and... I have to say I’ve always loved it. I know one of the criticisms from people is that the film takes a while to get going, with the character Hud, played by an actor I recently saw in Deadpool (reviewed here), T. J. Miller, documenting what is supposed to be a going away party for his best friend Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David). Rob is leaving New York to take on a job based in Japan, which is a nice little nod to the Japanese influence on this movie... everyone knows this is an American parody of a Toho kaiju movie, right? Then things go to hell and Rob, his friend Lily (played by Jessica Lucas), Hud (and that character name is obviously a nice, little jokey reference to the abbreviation Heads Up Display, due to the way the movie is shot) and Hud’s ‘crush’ who is ignoring him, Marlene (played so well by Lizzy Caplan, who is the ‘lady horseman’ in Now You See Me 2 - reviewed here), go off to rescue Rob’s estranged ex, Beth (Odette Annable), who is trapped in her apartment in the area of New York where this monster is attacking.
Now one of the problems I’ve heard people cite for this movie is that it takes so long to get going. Yes, it does take a while to get into the action, I admit... especially for such a short film... but I think it’s pretty necessary, actuallly, because it introduces you to the characters and helps create a bond so that you’ll worry about them whenever they’re put in peril. It’s a standard movie making tactic and I think it works especially well here. Especially since the ‘found footage’ tape that’s been recorded over still has traces of the previous footage, which tells the back story of Rob and Beth and is a nicely subtle counterpoint to underline and reenforce emotional values when it flickers back from underneath the top surface, when the video is paused for whatever reason and some tape presumably winds on. It’s well handled and I think modern audiences really need to be a lot more patient than they are today.
The film really does get going once it starts up with the fantastical element, however, and the great scene from the trailer where the Statue of Liberty’s severed head lands just a few metres away, in the street, from our main protagonists is still a great effect... although, apparently, nobody was willing to believe the real Statue of Liberty’s head is actually smaller, so the effects company were forced to make it a lot bigger than actual size for the version of the scene in the movie.
There’s a lot of frantic camerawork in the film, it has to be said, but at least, due to the nature of the beast, there’s a lot less visible editing going on (although I’m sure there must be a lot of hidden moving wipe edits during many of the scenes. There are also some great disaster and horror movie tropes and set pieces dotted throughout the movie... like the terrified swarms of rats in the abandoned subway running away from something our main protagonists, who are walking the tunnels, don’t see until one of them has the bright idea to switch on the night vision on the video camera. Hud faithfully documents everything he can for as long as he’s able to but... I won’t say too much about that right now... spoilers.
Another scene reminiscent of a disaster movie is where our crew climb up the insides of one skyscraper to try and gain access to the other skyscraper which is resting against it, half fallen, in an attempt to rescue Beth. Lots of great scenes here to be honest and the final fate of one of the characters, Marlene, adds a whole new level of intrigue to just what it is we could be dealing with here... something I had hoped would be picked up on in the sequel but... yeah, that one went in a whole other direction, for sure.
The film is riveting and exciting, with amazing performances from all the actors and some deftly handled transitions into one set piece after another. Alas, due to the nature of the film, there is no underscore but it does, during the end credits, have a beautiful end title piece called Roar!, composed by Michael Giacchino and it’s yet another reference to the film’s influences in that it’s very much an homage to the old Akira Ifikube music to the original Godzilla movie, Gojira, from 1954. A beautiful piece and I can’t believe this track still goes unissued on a CD somewhere... although it is available on iTunes, if you want to hear something really cool, in the vein of those good old kaiju eiga scores.
And that’s about it. Cloverfield is a film that I personally believe is a much more subtle blend of set ups and styles than people give it credit for. Certainly the best hand held shot giant monster movie to date (well, yeah, of course... I think it’s probably the only one, so far) and certainly something which is maybe a little more of a big spectacle cinema experience... which is ironic, given the nature of the format it’s trying to mimic. However you see it though, it’s very much a hard recommendation from me and monster movie lovers should find it an interesting watch. I much preferred it to something like the two official US made Godzilla movies (to date) and it’s something I will be watching again at some point. Definitely a lot of rip and loads of roar to be found in this rip-roaring spectacle.