Friday, January 18, 2008

Giant Monsters are SCARY again.

A Cloverfield review, if you will ;)

Monster movies, particularly of the "giant" variety, have had tumultuous tidings over the last few years. Godzilla took his third hiatus back in 2004, and things seemed bleak for daikaiju eiga. Thankfully for fans of this somewhat under-appreciated genre, a small but noticeable wave of creature features have been crawling from the darker corners of film-making imaginations, such as Peter Jackson's epic, exciting, and overly long remake of King Kong, the brief return of Gamera, and two new South Korean films: the critically acclaimed The Host and the flashy-but-brainless Dragon Wars. Finally, trailing on the success of Transformers, Producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves have unleashed the giant monster genre in a way never seen before. A jarring, abrasive, eye-popping spectacle called "Cloverfield."

Thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign primarily consisting of little tidbits and dangling carrots peppered throughout the vast internet realm, to say that this is a monster movie for the "Youtube generation" is a colossal understatement. What's truly spectacular about the film is that it breaks so many conventions of the giant monster genre, while simultaneously re-introducing time-honored traditions and elements to the teenagers of today.

The story is fairly simple, but genius in its delivery. A bunch of upper-class teens and college students from NYC are living their inane grandly insignificant drama-laden lives (part of the charm, since these are just normal shmucks and not scientists or generals), dealing with breakups, crushes, and awkward sex. In the midst of a going-away party for Rob the "hero," and "crazy horrible shit" happens. Manhattan is turned into a mass of nightmares, with horrible surprises lurking around every corner, all while Hud, our nervously comical cameraman, loyally documents the events.

The camera documentation style is absolutely what sets this film apart from any other monster film. While the Blair Witch Project gets points for inventing the concept and for subtle creepiness, Cloverfield puts you smack in the middle of the confusion, excitement and thrill of confronting a truly terrifying living force of nature, and all the chaos it brings with it. The scariest aspect, of course, is that you DON'T know what the damn thing is. It's big and terrible and it doesn't look like anything you've seen before (from a normal shmuck's perspective). You don't know why all this horror is happening, you aren't a scientist or a general, so you're on the periphery, so start RUNNING.
The human characters are, of course, the center of the story. Though Rob's decision to go on his heroic quest to save his one true love feels the most unrealistic of all...however, we can't deny that, without this "hero's quest," there would BE no real story to be involved in...and if your dearest friend called you, crying and scared, you're a horrible person for not going to their aid, and may it haunt you for the rest of your life.
Acting in general was very good. A few lines felt forced or odd attempts at sounding "hip" or "cool" but these few instances aside the dialogue was very natural and fluid. Each character was also built well enough for the one and a half hour of footage (which, by the way, is all the power the camera had. Those who criticize the camera for being "on" for 10 hours need to remember that Hud was constantly turning it on and off). Rob was a stoic leaderly character, though obsessive in his goals. Hud was disheveled and cracks wise excellently, Lilly was a supportive sisterly character, and Marlena, the sad little introvert, thankfully stayed the sad little introvert.
What's also really interesting about the movie is that no character is truly "sacred." Unlike many of its kind, Cloverfield doesn't coddle its lead teens, at least not excessively. No one is truly safe.

Okay, enough of that crap. What about the question on everyone's lips? What does the monster look like? Well, finding a little time, I worked up a really quick sketch of the beastie:

(UPDATE: I removed the old picture with something a little more updated, more accurate...I'm still a little unsure about the legs, though)
(I'm working on a more detailed pic for G-Fan magazine)

You'll need to make notes of that, because even when you get an eyeful of the big bad antagonist, it's hard to make out what's-what. The beast, designed by the masterful Neville Page, has a very unique anatomy (despite looking somewhat superficially like "Orga" from Godzilla 2000), and on top of that, moves with an awkward grace of a monster not used to walking on land. It doesn't march proudly down city streets like the mighty Godzilla, rather it shambled and crawls, "scampers," if you will, because it's really not sure how it should be moving. "Clover," is an odd mix of characterizations. When it arrives, and if you take time to dissect the events, it's really not being aggressive. It's confused and surprised by humans in general (if you check the various sites, it's never seen humans before, living underwater for thousands of years), and attacks the Statue of Liberty. It isn't until the combination of the military enraging it and the nasty mutant Parasites living on it running off and raising hell that the shit really hits the fan. Now the monster's pissed and annihilating the military where it can find them. It really is kaiju-level of invincibility, which, handled in such a refreshing way, adds to the monster's level of fearsomeness.
The scrambling, horrible parasites that act as yet another threat are a welcomed addition, if a bit superfluous, or even completely unnecessary, but then again, the impact of the film wouldn't be nearly as strong as it is. Taking cues from Starship Troopers and Godzilla 1985, these buggers create a whole new level of chaos to the camera work that emphasizes the quick, deadly nature of what's going on. Horrifying stuff.

No score for the film, with the exception of the wild, monstrously powerful "Roar!" overture theme during the end credits, written by Michael Giacchino, evokes the best of Akira Ifukube and other 50's and 60's monster movie themes. This needs to be online, available for download NOW.

A few friends who had to sit back a few rows (yes, we were unnervingly close to the screen) said they could hear me shouting at the screen various obscenities, depending on what was a-happenin'. Cloverfield had indeed heralded a new era of kaiju eiga, now placed alongside the greats of Monster Movie History. King Kong, Gojira, Them, Gamera 3, Aliens, and The Host had best make way for this sucker. Now if Abrams can only resist making a sub-par sequel, we'll be all set for a Godzilla revival soon enough :D


arvalis said...

Yeah i pretty much agree with your opinion. This is my sketch of what i think the beast kinda looked like . Keep me posted if you find any concept art or still frames from the movie because i really want to do a much more accurate version. You can note me on DA, my account is . Keep in touch bro.

Miserybahamut said...

I actually really liked the movie. A lot.


Until the ending. I effing hated that ending. It really did ruin the whole thing for me. But I like the monster itself. If only I could have seen more of Clover. :shrugs: I dunno, it just seems that it was overhyped.

Eshto said...

"A few friends who had to sit back a few rows (yes, we were unnervingly close to the screen) said they could hear me shouting at the screen various obscenities, depending on what was a-happenin'."

Okay I'm glad you weren't in my theater because I would have had to tell you to shut the hell up!

I mostly agree with your review, but I'm skeptical of this whole "the monster came from the ocean" theory. Yeah I know some people claim that was in the production notes, but I still don't buy it as the end-all interpretation. What was that thing falling into the ocean in the end then?

Great movie though, good fun.

arvalis said...

Hey bro i went to see cloverfield again today with a sketchbook in hand, i got a lot of really good reference. So i drew up a refined version of the beast that is nearly dead on accurate. You can find it here If there is anything amiss please tell me as im trying to get something very close.

Fact-N-Fiction said...


Hahaha I love your review, you should review all the movies that come out XD. However, that is not what I want to comment about, I have one question and a little incite into the little demonic bug bastards.

1st the question, I actually have two now that I think about it, WTF happened to Hud I mean I know Clover did something but did he sever him in half or throw him like a rag doll? Second, what was the transmission at the end of the movie, I stayed threw the credits but I missed what hey where saying because there was an ass load of 15 year old foot ball bitches whining the while time the credits were playing and would not leave.

Now, about those bugs that fell off of Clover. The way I explained it to my girl friend is this. I am not sure if it will help you understand their need in the movie or if you already knew this. Anyways, what I am saying is, just like all animals there is some form of parasite. I think of those bugs that fell from clover as his Lice or his Fleas. That was what made sense to me, and even Fish have lice like parasites, or Branchiura (Fish Lice), so it is safe to assume that those where his, its type of lice.

If you have any replies to me, is my dA page, send me a comment or a note. ^____^


Anonymous said...

arvalis said...

So i happened to find some seeming to be official concept art. Here is a link . The one on the top seems to be the real deal

Radon2000 said...

Well, i think that is why there is going to be a manga that is based off of the movie. More like a prequal to Cloverfield telling where the monster came from. Now, if the manga gets just as much attention as the movie did, then there maybe a possibily of a chance for a sequal maybe in 2 or 3 years (J.J Abrams did comment that if they were going to make a sequal, then it will be at the same time where it had left off, but with a different camera). Then, that is where Godzilla may take it's rise again.

Anonymous said...

Best Cloverfield review I've read. I hear so many negative things about it from so many sources, but it's refreshing to see something from a fellow Kaiju Fanatic's point of view. I personally loved this movie, I rate it up there with GMK, Kong 05', and the Gamera trilogy. Definitely one of my favorite movies of all time. I hope you're all rich enough to afford the action figure! (which I'll be saving the rest of this month for XD)

Anonymous said...

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Susan said...

Awesome Article. Really very much impressed with it and the all the godzilla series. Seriously I became a huge fan of the monster and started collecting many Godzilla Monster Toys