Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cloverfield

Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.

The Art Of Throwing People Bones:

I love love love destructo movies. Seeing things blow up on large scale is awesome. There are few things more fun than a smart action movie. There's that part in Die Hard 3 when Bruce has to defuse the bomb on the train, and the look on his face tells me: this is now a documentary. Why the Fuck are you here cameraman? Get out of the train. If I don't defuse this you and your audio crew are dead.

It's moments like this that keep me going.

Cloverfield, unfortunately, only has one of these moments and it is very brief, and the rest of the movie doesn't get anywhere near that kind of honesty.

A thing I've noticed about new action and superhero movies lately is that they have perfected the art of throwing you a bone. The anecdotal example is from X-Men 3, when I was working at Nuclear. The movie is obviously trash. My friends and I heckled the shit out of it in the theater and it was fun. No fewer than a half dozen people came into the comic shop the next week and tell me "Oh man, it was amazing! Did you see that part where they mention Gambit's real name?"

Without fail this would always come up. Everyone's favorite character wasn't in the movie, he didn't make anything go explodo, he never even got close to making an appearance: but, his name was mentioned, so nerds everywhere can grasp at straws and think that they are being satisfied. (It must be a confidence thing, right? They're nerds and shunned all their lives so when they get thrown a bone they claw at it with ferocity?).

The latest Superman is one long exercise in this kind of filmmaking. The all powerful Superman goes through the movie picking things up and putting them down: He picks up a lady, puts down a lady. Picks up a car, puts down a car. Picks up a plane, puts down a plane. And! The big finale! Picks up a boat! Puts down a boat!

So. The final shot of Cloverfield does this in a perfectly succinct way. Way in the background of Coney Island the alien falls out of the sky into the water. The end is the beginning of the end. It isn't expanded upon, it isn't explicated or even a plot point. No awesomeness comes from this moment: it's as good as throwing a bone into the water and watching people come back to the theater to paddle out to it.

The first 30 minutes of the movie could have been cut. I hate hate hate it when horror movies spend an act setting shit up, because you never fucking care about these people unless it's really, really good writing. I'm all for a first act set up: Audition ropes you into a really entertaining romantic comedy. That's cool, but it has to be done right. And having a kind of hipster-amplified indy-cred soap opera turn into Godzilla err The Mush Man is not doing it right.

During the party jump cuts, bones are thrown galore. The soundtrack manages to crank through Black Keys, Ratatat, Spoon and Gorillaz without finishing anywhere near half a song. It's annoying, as if to make up for the rest of the musicless movie, and to market a certain kind of soundtrack. I'm reminded of the X-Files movie, which cashed in big time on alternative rock radio.

So the party is abruptly ended by the Statue of Liberty's head being tossed downtown out in front of the apartment.

Here's where that one moment comes in, where I'm directly thrown an intellectual bone that gives me hope for the next thirty minutes of the movie till I want to just go to sleep.

As soon as the debris settles, everyone in the street runs out with their cameraphones, iphones, any phones, and start taking video and photos. This is a nice, modern moment. I really did like that part.

Unfortunately everything else is just kind of referential. The Statue of Liberty is like saying to the audience; "Ghostbusters, Planet of the Apes, 9-11. See where we're getting our images from? Good."

The little aliens are right out of Starship Troopers, and ST did them way, way better. That movie even had some satire to it. There is, of course, the Godzilla aspect. Rats running through tunnels was done much better by 28 Days Later, as was the body-exploding infestation in all Aliens movies. The camera is taken right out of Blair Witch, as is the marketing: no-budget cast, low-budget light = big budget sfx and big marketing. Having a character named Hud, who literally acts as the audience's Heads Up Display, is a trite HAL do-over from 2001.

And, I can't place where from, but I swear I've seen the design of the Cloverfield monster very recently in a film. LOTR? Descent? Someone help. What does the monster look like?

I have a problem watching jittery movies; they give me a headache with all of this quick MTV heavy metal video editing. I don't get carsick, I just get to the point where I have to close my eyes. I've talked about this before: the Bourne Identity way of camera work, where one piece of information is given in each shot. Bourne looks, cut to what Bourne is looking at, cut to Bourne's reaction shot.

According to Film Art Blog, though:
Cloverfield has much longer takes than any recent Hollywood film I know. I counted only about 180 shots, yielding an average of 24 seconds per shot (in a genre in which today’s films average 2-5 seconds per shot).

That's actually so strange to me. It feels much, much quicker than that. Which is exactly what you want long shots to do, a lot of the time: feel like a number of shots, make the audience feel like multiple pieces of information are being translated. So on that level, good job Cloverfield.

3 comments:

Grant! said...

The mosnter looks like the striders in Half Life 2.

Grant! said...

And, while am at it, I'll throw in my two cents. While the movie had its lions share of flaws (don't even think about seeing it without a bottle of advil), I think a strong concept kept me interested throughout (well, past the first half-our at Melroe's Place).

It's multiple allusions (you forgot the replication of the golden gate bridge being destroyed in The Beast From 10,00 Leauges) interacted with the concept of the camera itself, speaking heavily on visual culture studies. The camera being one of the characters really drove me into the movie in a way I didn't expect, and made the action seem more intense than if had been shot like any other godzilla movie.

The plot was not enough for an hour and a half, the characters where flat, and I felt dizzy through the entire thing, but the concept behind it was strong and inherintly interesting. I would have preferred a serious of short films strung together, set in a new version of the appocolypse film, or at least a more complex story that reflected the complex theoretical aspects of the movie.

All in all, i'd say "good concept, try again"

p.s. I quivered with glee when she popped.

joe said...

definitely agree with that. ground level monster movie is a cool idea. 84 minutes of headache is not.