Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

A.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Douchebags.

It's not often that a movie combines so many elements that I love with so many elements that I absolutely hate, but this is one of them. And it's frustrating to see a movie with such potential ruined by a shortage of imagination and lazy and cheap filmmaking choices.

What I like about this movie is the essential concept of a monster movie shot in that Blair Witch/United 93 style, handheld, in real time, without experts or political leaders or the usual puffery. That's why I thought United 93 was the best movie of 2006: because it successfully replicated that feeling of in-the-moment existential terror with an undercurrent of genuine compassion and humanity. Plus, it's just fun to see urban metropolises being destroyed by rampaging monsters, especially ones that look like they came from the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft, and without any real sense of closure or explanation or rationalization.

The downside is that this great concept has been turned to garbage by the filmmakers' insistence on populating the movie with spoiled, whiny, upwardly-mobile idiots whom we meet in an interminable party sequence. Once the monster attack starts, they proceed on a stalker's mission to track down an estranged girlfriend in defiance of all recognizable human behavior. Maybe this could have worked with better screenwriting, casting, performances, and direction, but I feel like the concept is rancid at its core. To go back to my comparison with United 93, or with Children of Men, those are films that succeed because they aren't solely about their principle characters or plot but rather are about the worlds in which they take place, complex universes populated by a breadth of messy, lovable humanity struggling against extreme circumstances. Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams have narrowed their focus to look only at a small, vapid group of people struggling with nothing more interesting than a high school crush.

It's just a pathetic waste of a good idea, made the more annoying by the fact that it's guaranteed to make a lot of money, and our national character gets a little more insular and self-absorbed as a result. There's just nothing genuine about this movie beyond the fanboyish, fetishistic destruction, no sense of real emotion beyond the pretense of a trite 'live every day like it's your last' message. It's a movie made by people with small hearts and smaller minds for an audience interested in sensation unburdened by significance.

PS: I also feel bad for Chris Mulkey, who was apparently considered to be so unrecognizable of an actor that he could be stuck in this movie without being distracting.



K. Bowen said...

Well, Jeff, I think you and I are about the only two people who saw the movie this way. We had pretty much the same reaction. How much better would this film be if it starred the cast of Metropolitan and was written by Whit Stilman?

If you don't mind, here's a link to mine.

I admire your clinical pan. I just got tired and went for the jugular funny bone.

Jeff McMahon said...

Well done, I guess my perspective was coming from a more hurt place, because I'm a genre-film kind of guy, meaning that I love good, trashy B-movies, which this one wasn't. If this had been made by an actual filmmaker it could have been excellent, but it was made by people without vision so that's what happens.

K. Bowen said...

I would say that I'm an art-film kinda guy. Then again, 28 Weeks Later was in my top 10, and I think the zombie films are doing a lot better than the sand films at capturing the present cultural climate. So I do appreciate a good genre film.

I think Cloverfield would be tremendously helped by a more intelligent cast of characters. People who could believably think their way out of a situation and who had something interesting and human to say. I wish they would show more canny.

Anyway, I don't think it's a terrible film, exactly. Just a complete failure. There's a difference.