Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cloverfield Thoughts

So, I actually waited until Saturday night to see this movie. Late Saturday night, in fact. So, clearly, I was only somewhat excited about this movie (nowhere near I Am Legend caliber excitement...or even 30 Days of Night excitement, but moving on).

I was excited about this movie for a couple reasons. I felt that the advertising campaign had been quite admirable. I respected this as a cool pet project of J.J. Abrams and I thought it was awesome that he was taking advantage of his new found golden child status to do something cool that nobody would typically consider actually doing. I also felt that it was a cool idea that had some pretty decent potential.

As many people bring up, the typical situation where handheld cameras are used for filming is either in independent movies that are using it as a gimmick along with an opportunity to save money or used in action movies that want to hide the fact that their actors can't actually fight (or choreographers can't actually stage a fight). Clearly, neither of these two reasons is a particularly good reason to use handheld cameras. However, Cloverfield has a different reason. It's clearly not an independent movie trying to save budget, nor is it an action movie that can't choreograph a fight (in fact, I think it's action scene choreography is really impressive). It believes that this is a viewpoint worth watching from.

Crazy, huh?

That, maybe, the people who have to run and hide from the giant, freakish monster attacking the city are worth caring about. That, maybe, they have a story. And not just a story that involves running and hiding from the monster, but a story that lets them be heroes too. Maybe even a story where they get to prove their worth to the people they care about. And, you know, that might be a story worth telling too.

Obviously, I didn't know that's how it was going to be. I just knew it would be a like the Blair Witch Project or whatever, except with an indescribable and destructive monster (as opposed to sticks and pet rocks). And, well, I felt that could be a fun jumping off point.

And, you know what, it was. I actually didn't intend to write a post about this little fact, though, because after seeing the movie, I had kind of assumed that everyone who saw it liked it. I mean, if you were excited about it, you were probably excited about it because you thought the idea of some good-looking twenty-somethings running away from the craziest looking monster ever put to screen would be fun to watch for an hour and half. If that wasn't interesting to you, I would hope you didn't bother to see it, because then you'd just be giving yourself motion sickness for nothing, which sucks.

So, I assumed that everyone who saw it then saw the same movie as me, which basically totally delivered on that rather bare premise with decent, if not particularly memorable, characters, great production values, and, well, 90 minutes of good-looking twenty-somethings running away from the the craziest looking monster ever put to screen. So, I kind of assumed there was no reason to write a post about it.

But then I went online and I found all these comments all over the place from people basically saying that they felt they totally threw away their money on a crappy movie that just had good advertising. These people seemed offended that the advertising had gotten them excited about the movie, but that it somehow didn't give them what it promised.

This bothered me.

I mean, honestly, I can't think of how it could have been much better. I don't think anyone can complain that we didn't see enough monster. We got plenty of good long looks at the creature and it is still quite burned into my memory. If I had to describe it, I would try to have the reader imagine a really gross, wrinkly old man moving around doing a crab walk thing, except his head is where his crotch should be and there's a long tail where is head should be. Also, his head looks like a worm with a gaping mouth perfect for eating innocent twenty-somethings trying to run away.

So, there's plenty of monster and the action is really well done (even if you often have to try to piece together exactly what happened afterwards since it typically happens too fast to really comprehend with the limited view the camera provides). The characters are decent, but we shouldn't be going in expecting to care about the characters all that much. So, how can people be dissatisfied? I don't know. I honestly don't.

I mean, clearly, this movie isn't for everyone. But, if you like monster movies, I can't fathom disliking this one. It's good. I'll be honest. I like that we're following people who have no idea what's going on. It seems like we always follow the characters who happen to be the heroes that figure out what the monster's weakness is (think Jeff Goldblum in ID4) and heroically manage to inform the right people (who we've also been following...think Bill Pulman in ID4, or Jeff Goldblum's character's ex-wife) so that it can be exploited by some specialist (who we've also been following...think Will Smith in ID4) and save a bunch of random innocent people (who've we've checked in on at least one other time...think crop dusting family in ID4). This movie's promise was to not do that. That it's about the normal people who have to deal with this catastrophe.

And it delivered on that promise. Absolutely delivered.

Does it matter if the monster was killed or not? In all honesty, if this was a typical monster movie, it would be defeated, but then the audience would stay until after the credits to find out that secretly there's another one coming...or it's mommy...or Elvis or whatever, I don't care. So, basically, the only difference is that we don't get to know. It's up to the audience to decide for themselves (and the writers once they start working on the sequel, of course...really, it's more up to the writers, now that I think about it, but for now the audience gets to decide). And, seriously, that's not a bad thing.

You could complain that the characters make stupid decisions (like trying to go back and save each other rather than just getting the hell out of there). But this is a lame complaint. You could make that same complaint about most heroes in other monster movies (admittedly, those dudes are typically setting their sights a little higher, but that just makes them stupider, really...or is it more stupid? Grammar can be tough, sometimes.). So, I don't think that counts either.

So, really, this is about expectations. I don't know what the expectations were that the movie wasn't able to meet, but apparently there were some, and this made people unhappy. For reasons that are hard to explain, this makes me think of my intense dissatisfaction with Transformers. The typical argument for liking it was that it promised to have robots fighting and it was able to deliver on this promise and so how can you complain that a stupid summer blockbuster was painfully stupid. My answer would be that it promised robots fighting, but we don't get to watch robots fighting each other. We get to watch jumbled masses of unintelligible moving parts fighting against the military. And a robot peeing on John Turturro. These items, amongst others, would be well below what it promised and what I hoped it would deliver.

In summary, Cloverfield promised to play around with the monster movie genre by doing it entirely from the perspective of those on the ground. In doing so, it also made it clear that it had a budget and the monster would be awesome. I believe it met these promises and so it's almost unreasonable to dislike the movie unless you weren't actually interested in that initial premise. Transformers, on the other hand, promised to have an awesome sized budget so that they could stage some of the coolest special effects and battles using characters and toys from our childhoods (well, somebody's childhoods, but whatever). I don't believe Transformers met these promises because they wasted the awesome budget and special effects on making fun of Transformers and the actors and just everything. They then didn't even deliver any intelligible action sequences (At least while watching Cloverfield I could figure out what just happened if I pieced it all together in the moments after the action. With Transformers, I didn't even know where to begin because everything looked the same and too much was happening at the same time and none of it seemed to make any sense).

So, yeah. I liked Cloverfield and I honestly can't understand why anyone who was excited about this movie at all didn't actually like it as well. I can only conclude that people are stupid.

That is all.


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