Movie Review: “Cloverfield”

My family decided that we’d all go to the movies this weekend, so we rolled into Stanwood and hit the first show of the day on Saturday. Nick, being 14, wanted to see Meet The Spartans. Sue, being a chick, wanted to see the chickflick 27 Dresses. Chris & I, being men, wanted nothing to do with either, so we chose Cloverfield. I bought four tickets for three movies and we split up after walking in. Not being a TV watcher, I knew nothing about Cloverfield before I entered beyond two things:

  • It was a monster movie
  • It was filmed in that massively annoying “shaky cam” style

I love monster movies. I saw John Carpenter’s The Thing and the original Alien when I was a teenager and they primed my brain for the whole monster movie genre.

However, I hate the whole shaky cam style of filming. It is distracting beyond belief. I have tried to watch a few things done this way, and it has completely turned me off. The new version of Battlestar Galactica is a great example – the camera wobbles and wanders to the point of distraction. I watched one or two episodes and never went back. I figured if Cloverfield drove me similarly nuts that I’d walk over and join Nick at his movie.

It was fun to sit down in front of a movie I knew nothing about, and just let it happen with no expectations. I could not have picked a better movie for this situation.

If you haven’t seen it, and don’t wish to be spoiled, do NOT click “more”…. otherwise click to continue.

I love the whole premise of this movie, in that it is a 1st person account of a disaster. A single camera captures the whole of a single evening-into-daylight event. No prologue, no exposition, just a slice of somebody’s life and then shit starts hitting the fan. We just cling to our seats and are pulled along for the ride.

So the premise is great, but the execution is slightly flawed. I did however stay to the end. Even with the shakiest of shaky cams.

Ten Things I Liked:
1. How the “camera man” got Tom Sawyered into the role, but stuck with it, right up to the (literally) bitter end.

2. The cinematic homages liberally sprinkled throughout. I saw bits of The Thing, Alien, Godzilla, King Kong, Escape From New York, and many other sci-fi and monster flicks.

3. The fact that we catch only glimpses of the creature (though read later about my dislike on that matter)

4. The fact that NOTHING is explained, and that small snippets are picked up via CNN on TV.

5. At the beginning, before widespread panic sets in every time something happens everyone pulls out their cell phones and takes pictures. Zeitgeist!

6. The parasites. In my mind the real stars of the movie are the parasites. I like to think that they are the root cause of everything that happens. =)

7. The “night-vision” scene in the subway tunnel will be regarded as an iconic monster-flick snippet. Even though it is telegraphed long before and in no way a surprise in the context of the film up to that point. It was the perfect early 21st century update to the “Dallas in the tunnels” scene in Alien.

8. I love subject matter that touches on how people’s “normal” lives can come completely unglued when societal infrastructure gets a tweak form something external. I think it is a deep human fear, likely the deepest human fear, that we are helpless without infrastructure.

9. The movie makers avoided cheap shocks. They could have “jack in the boxed” us a dozen times and refrained.

10. No lame music.

Now, when I slide to the dislike side I have to warn you, one of my pet peeves about movies is the logical flaw. Too often, ESPECIALLY in monster flicks, the writers make logical errors in character action, physics, story line, whatever… some blatantly illogical thing that my mind seizes on and JUST PLAIN WRONG. Frequently this is done to advance a story, but it just bothers the hell out of me. Usually it is just the “Go out in the dark with a flashlight and walk backwards” bullshit that happens in every B-grade monster movie, but the ones that REALLY bother me are the ones where they could have done better. Not all my beefs with Cloverfield are in that realm, just most. So with that in mind…

Ten Things I Didn’t Like:

1. I just can’t work up any sympathy for hip New York rich kids. I could not wait for them all to get eaten.

2. The “go back to rescue the princess” thing was a bit strained to me. In the face of everything happening, I think the characters would have just been in a panic to get out. GET OUT. A fine story could have been built out of just getting out. The rescue the chick bit just didn’t seem real to me. If a gigantic monster was tearing apart the city people’s base, primary instinct would be self-preservation.

#2 brings up two more issues I had…

3. In a space the as populated as Manhattan the widespread panic would have been even worse. The bridge scenes, while evocative of 9/11, would have been realistically far more panicked and people would have been getting trampled. Especially in the latter part of those scenes when the shit really started hitting the fan.

4. Scale. The monster was just TOO big. The physics involved in a creature that size just stretch logic past the breaking point. I understand why it was done that way but giant monsters just don’t work in this planet’s physics model.

5. Speaking of physics. I thought I caught a reference to the chick’s apartment being a penthouse? The stairwell scenes and the heights required just jumped by too fast. I know that the “camera man” would have done some real-time editing, but it seemed forced and unrealistic. I won’t even go into the physics involved in the buildings leaning on each other… beyond 54th(? fifty-something) floor to 39th floor? If the building with 39 floors is leaning ONTO the other the roof would be lower, not higher numerically. The other chick would have lost her high heels soon after the bridge, not be wearing them still while stair climbing. Then a parasite appears suddenly 50-some stories up? Princess gets impaled on re-bar and it makes a perfect puncture through her AND her tank-top? With a tiny little blood circle around it?? Dude, that it a blunt object, through a lung!!??

OK I cheated, that is about seven bitches in one number… sorry.

6. Speaking of physics. I loved how the electrical grid wavered and flickered BUT… the timing seemed off. The shakes, explosions, booms, and blackouts all happened too fast. Light and sound travel at different velocities and these events should have been presented in a staggered fashion. When everyone runs out onto the roof, or out onto the street and huge explosions happen in the distance there should have been a delay between sight and sound. Ask anyone who has ever witnessed an explosion at a distance… the effect is eerie: first the flash, then the resolution of the fireball as your eyes adjust. Then there is a weird mental disconnect as your brain tries to process what it sees with the lack of noise … then BOOOOM!!!! the shockwave and noise bowl you over. Why is it that so few movies ever get that basic physics issue correct??

7. Oh, doesn’t that subway tunnel have a highly charged third rail? How come nobody got fried in the dark?

8. Rehashing a minor point of #5 here but… only once to the characters show the physical affect of running and panic, and then they are 50-some stories up a staircase! Even athletes show the pronounced affect of running when they push hard. These characters spent the first half of this movie boozing it up, then the second half literally running for their lives. They should have been gasping a lot more.

9. Panic and confusion reigned properly when it should, but NOT when it was inconvenient for the story line or the camera. The helicopter scene started great, with the parties being split and panic as the monster approached BUT…

a. The monster was TOO close. In reality the last helicopter would never have left, but..

b. Then it does, and flies for while, then the monster appears right next to it again! In reality the pilot would not have been lollygagging along a few hundred feet above the monster, on a parallel course, WHILE THE AIR FORCE WAS ON A BOMB RUN right above it! He would have been hightailing it AWAY from the heat, not lazily circling above for the benefit of his amateur camera operator/passenger!

10. The Creature view at the end. I think the movie would have been better off without the long gaze at it. Like the end of Alien, where we finally see the whole thing… it brought the whole movie down a notch. It just appears! POP! Out of nowhere, and then stands there admiring its next meal in peace for a bit. I think a far better way of pulling off that scene would have been a blurry, bloody snatch of the camera boy from behind with the other two characters running off, and coming back for the camera later. yes, we could have caught more glimpses of it during the snacking, but no long steady gaze please. Monsters are best left to the imagination and the glimpse. The director knows this!

Overall it was a great flick, and my bitching above is really just overly nit picky stuff from a long-time movie goer. Got anything to add? Toss it in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Cloverfield””

  1. Did you find out the significance of the very last scene, where they are back at the fair on Coney Island? I, IMHO, found that one of the best parts of the movie because I honestly didn’t expect it. I probably wouldn’t have caught it had I not been sitting on the right side of the enormous (Cinerama) screen.

    I also found the whole rescue the chick thing a tad bit unbelievable, especially after his bro got hit by a what looked to be a tentacle. Then again it was pretty predictable after that whole “drama” scene prior to the monster butchering NYC that he was going to go after her.

    Btw (you know I can’t let this go unanswered) I don’t like the whole shaky camera effect either. I can’t watch a show named “The Shield” for that very reason (they truly over do it) but it has definitely toned down in the new BSG. I recently saw a few episodes of the first season and noticed the shaky camera effect and compared them to the last season, there is a big difference. They still seem to struggle with attack/battle scenes though.

  2. “Did you find out the significance of the very last scene, where they are back at the fair on Coney Island?”

    What was that Yvo? I’ll admit I turned and whispered something to my son in that scene and was not really paying attention too much to that part. What did I miss? I heard the princess say something like “best day ever”…


  3. Pay no attention to the dialogue but rather gaze at the water behind her. You’ll see something drop into the water, not cloverfield monster size, but a pretty good size none-the-less.

    I really liked how that part tied in with the whole movie. Of course you don’t get told what dropped into the water nor is there any mention of it.

  4. I didn’t see the movie (and won’t, as I don’t do horror movies), but completely and totally agree with you on the shaky camera gripe. Won’t the cinematographers and directors please get over that already…?

Comments are closed.