Thursday, January 31, 2008

Movies: Cloverfield

I had less than no intention of seeing this film, and I have a feeling that the reason it got so badly trashed by everyone who did see it has something to do with that. I see a good number of Hollywood movies, but I've never seen Armageddon, Independence Day, or I Am Legend. I have seen that comet movie (Deep Impact), but I was in high school and just went along with my friends to kill a Friday afternoon, so that can't be held against me. My point is, I don't go in for big-budget end-of-the-world blockbusters, and Cloverfield, with its dim poster depicting a headless Statue of Liberty, looked like precisely that. I never saw a trailer or anything else that might otherwise shade my impression (and, perhaps surprisingly, I'm not a big reader of reviews), and I recall thinking it odd that a studio would release a crappy version of I Am Legend so fast on its heels. Turns out that Cloverfield is as good as its advertising campaign was bad, and if anyone tells you otherwise, it's because they are members of an improperly targeted market. This is a movie for young-urban-indie-intellectuals, but none of us would have known it.

I was roped into going by a friend who had read a review, and promised me that it was, rather than a blockbuster end-of-the-world movie, a monster movie in the vein of The Host, a Korean monster movie in which we had delighted together a year ago. Reviewers allude to The Blair Witch Project, and it's undeniable that Cloverfield combines the crazy-giant-monster-eats-our-city aspect of The Host with the and-we-only-know-about-it-through-this-vestigial-"evidence"-caught-on-tape-by-civilians-turned-victims aspect of The Blair Witch Project, but where we were gullible enough as movie-goers in 1999 to believe, at least for awhile, that what we were seeing was an actual document, we are, nearly ten years later, a lot more savvy. So are our compatriots, a filmic depiction of The Decemberists' "Youth and beauty brigade." The first third of the movie, in fact, consists of nothing more benign than handheld digital footage of soigné twenty-somethings at a loft party, too wealthy to be hipsters, but too hip to be yuppies, and though they're pretty and paltry, we become immediately wrapped up in their petty problems (considering the wild success of television like The OC, this should be no surprise). We manage to do this despite the fact that the camera keeps moving in a sickness-inducing way, zooming in and out, turning upside-down, and being passed from one hand to another (it is, after all, just a home-movie).

This, in and of itself, was good enough for me. I sat in cinematographical ecstasy, floored that a meaningful narrative could be presented in such a way. I had completely forgotten I was watching a monster movie. I was lulled into the shallow, pleasant, yupster melodrama unfolding for my sensual pleasure, as an attractive young man shared his deep thoughts with some friends out on the fire escape in the dark of freshly-fallen night. And then the head of the Statue of Liberty landed in the middle of the street and shocked everyone—on camera and off. Everyone ran out into the streets screaming (thanks to the emotional affect of shaking handheld DV, we in the audience are running out there, too), and mayhem ensued.

The mayhem, of course, progresses along a dental-floss-like plot line (ever so thin, but strong enough to do the job) that takes our core group of yupsters (five, but then there are four, and some time passes, and then there are three—Mwa-ha-ha!) all the way uptown to the besieged towers of the Time Warner Building on Columbus Circle, where the devotion of one love-stricken yupster inspires him (and his few remaining friends) to climb sixty-something flights of stairs (the elevators, of course, aren't running, since the tower has actually toppled into it's twin (no allusions there!) and jump from one roof onto the other (providing an opportunity for gorgeous aerial views of the city being destroyed by the monster who, by the way, has hurled little monster spawn all over the place, which have attacked our by now rather motley band of heroes (one has even taken off her Manolos and is walking barefoot!), hence the "then there were three"—spawn bites lead to fatigue followed by the expulsion of blood through the tear ducts) to rescue his "true love" (with whom he had quarreled at the party), who had left him a voicemail at the beginning of the disaster saying that she couldn't breathe, and who has all this time been trapped in her luxe condo, impaled through the chest by a steel rod, and who is miraculously still alive and survives the de-impaling process with nothing worse than a shriek, and who is even more miraculously pumped with enough adrenaline to run away with the rest of the gang (and then there were four again).

I will concede that the film offers multiple moments that would have been brilliant ends, and instead tacks on a semi-sweet ending that I could have done without, but it's not so saccharine that it ruins the brilliant adventure we've just been through (oh, I didn't talk about that, much, did I. . . well, the Brooklyn Bridge collapses while we're on it, and then we walk through the subway tunnels in the dark, afraid of rats until we see something scarier—monster spawn—and then there's the whole Time Warner rooftop field trip, and all the while, the monster is swinging down with its giant wet maw wide open), and we don't find out for certain whether the lovebirds live or die (we make it to the rescue helicopter, but the helicopter doesn't make it after that), though the very presence of the tape implies that they met with an ugly end. Without saying anything (more than I already have) about 9/11 or youth or beauty or solipsism, I will simply say that this was a completely brill flick, and I'm sorry that a crappy ad campaign made certain that no one got to see it before it disappeared.

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