Australian premiere of Cloverfield: a suitably abrupt review
There has certainly been an advertising-boosted buzz about Cloverfield over the last couple of weeks. It isn’t a cultural phenomenon (despite what JJ Abrams, producer extraordinaire seems to think), and it didn’t feel like some drastic turning point in modern popular cinema, BUT Cloverfield succeeds as an immersive, organ-churning rollercoaster of a film starring, albeit in the periphery, what must surely be the best movie monster since Alien.
What is Cloverfield? An anxious, turbulent, down and dirty joyride in a stolen car. The definitive image of the film currently in the public mind is the beheaded Statue of Liberty. Like Independence Day, Cloverfield has its big symbolic moment of destruction. Unlike Independence Day, the film isn’t a thoroughly vapid piece of high-gloss crap. After this decapitation, the filmmakers continue to up the ante in genuinely imaginative ways.
The premise is simple enough, home video footage more or less recording some kind of jarring attack on Manhattan and recovered after the fact. Authentically, like every home video you’ve ever made the narrating camera guy is mostly annoying but occasionally triumphant. But let’s not even go there.
Forget character, plot, probing analysis. This is not Godfather, but it also sure as hell isn’t Godzilla (Broderick, not Mothra). Perhaps Cloverfield owes some credit to lessons learnt from horribly disappointing American monster movies – with their lame attempts at tumescent patriotic meaning, diaorrhaea-thin plots, and Bambi-esque happy endings.
Ditching Western convention, this film’s punch is delivered by makers who know what they set out to create – a textured, sensory shockwave, far more reminiscent of Japanese robot and monster anime than it is of, say, the Hulk or King Kong. The film isn’t visceral in the manner of, for example, Saw, Silence of the Lambs, or even Pink Flamingoes. While it doesn’t get under your skin, as such, it certainly gets into your nervous system.
Some kneejerk puppet-string douchebags are wound up about the parallels between the attack on New York in 2001 and parts of this movie. I can recognize quite easily that these people are the kind of douchebags who call hot, skinny chips ‘Freedom Fries’ and think that Allah is trying to steal Christmas, and you can too. Less ass-hatted people may say that Cloverfield really feels like a war zone, and I would disagree. It certainly is bombastic and experiential, but Children of Men achieves that most drilling of sensations in a more believable way, in my opinion. Nonetheless, for unrelenting intensity and a welcomely jarring movie experience, Cloverfield gets big props.
Strange though, to compare these two films and consider the different approaches in this regard. Children of Men sets up a state of war in which the camera almost doesn’t exist, and thereby places the viewer in the midst of everyday chaos likely experienced by far too many, especially in the Middle East. Cloverfield, on the other hand, almost features the camera as a main character, synthesizing an experience of war in a much more subjective manner.
Cloverfield was not created to generate deep discussions about film philosophy, I am certain. But questions and ideas about filmmaking as a process continue to linger after the final shot. Regardless, it’s a bloody good ride done well and in a pleasingly fuck-Hollywood manner, thin characters and nitpickery aside.
Interestingly also, the only preview was a short and purely suggestive trailer indicating that the next Star Trek movie, also an Abrams production, shall be out this Christmas. I may be wrong but I think Patrick Stewart’s voice featured briefly, so…
Originality, relative to what might be expected from an American production: 9
Overall: 8/ 10