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Monday, January 28, 2008

Cloverfield Is More Than Another Blair Witch Project Redux

Cloverfield is being touted as "Godzilla meets Blair Witch." However, Cloverfield is a little more sophisticated than Blair Witch and a little less monster-centric than Godzilla. Cloverfield is not about the monster or where it comes from; it is a story about how people respond to catastrophes.

The film begins as the screening of a secret For Your Eyes Only style tape branded "Property of the United States Do Not Duplicate" pertaining to U.S. Case Designate "Cloverfield" found in an area "formerly known as Central Park". So right off the bat, we know that we are in for lots of destruction. The tape, it turns out, is the home video belonging to Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a successful young man who just received a job offer as a corporate vice-president in Japan. In the home video, we see Rob and his latest conquest, Beth (Odette Yustman), who is sitting in her gorgeous Columbus Circle apartment yammering to Rob about how she’s never been to Coney Island. Seriously? Jeez, you have to get out of Manhattan, lady.

The video continues but this time with a new cameraman, Hud (T.J Miller) who is accidentally taping over the trip to Coney Island while filming Rob at his goodbye party. At this point, the home-video format is milked for all it’s worth in order to develop the characters. Twenty minutes go by and no monsters are in sight. Indeed, all we see is a group of sweet but somewhat self-absorbed yuppies obsessed with immortalizing themselves on film. Then the lights go out, the building shakes and everyone runs up to the roof to see what’s going on. For a long period of the film, all of the action happens from a distance, with clouds of dust, collapsing buildings and screaming looters only hinting at the horrors waiting in Midtown. Rob, Hud, Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) all decide to run the opposite way from everyone else and head to Columbus Circle to save Beth from her almost certain death. Along the way, they fight off small, crab-like monsters, swarms of rats and flying shrapnel, only to be grabbed by a group of army men a la E.T and stuck in plastic tents. In the end, however, Rob gets to Beth and….well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

Comparisons to 9/11 are inevitable, and indeed, they are necessary as it is clear that director Matt Reeves is trying to evoke the sensation of observing a terrorist attack caught on home video. Except in this case it is a mysterious 300-foot monster, not a group of suicide bombers, caught on tape. I admit it: seeing the Chrysler Building collapse got me. It upset me. And then I became self conscious about the fact that it upset me and it led me to consider how the 9/11 footage has changed the way I, and perhaps many others, view the destruction of cityscapes in movies. I remember thinking it was really cool when the aliens blew up the White House in Independence Day. Watching the destruction of lower and midtown Manhattan in Cloverfield, however, was less cool than it was eerie. I guess that all of those people who said that it would be in bad taste to destroy New York City in the movies after 9/11 were a bit short sighted. The expiration date on tiptoeing around the World Trade Center attack has officially run out, ladies and gentleman.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Cloverfield is how it illustrates out current obsession with technology and with ourselves. Indeed the film would not exist if it were not for camcorders, picture phones and all those other gadgets we use every day to immortalize the moments of our self-important lives. Hud starts out filming a movie about Rob’s last night in New York but ends up filming a movie about the destruction of New York. His justification in the beginning is “We have to record this event because it’s important!” His justification for continuing to film is “We have to record this! It’s really important!” It would seem that in the Facebook/Youtube generation, anything you can upload—from the lonely confessions of mallrats to the brutality of war—it worth preserving as a legacy.

The amount I would pay to see this: $6


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