When J.J. Abrams and his son went to Japan he was amazed how many stores still had Godzilla merchandise for sale. Really J.J.? You had to go there to know that;) Well after his trip he intended to make a Godzilla for American audiences. I don’t think he totally succeeded but he definitely didn’t fail either. Cloverfield is really a fantastic film that utilizes “shaky cam” in a way that stands apart from the trite and overdone realtime/mockumentary films of the last 10 years. This style worked so well that it made an already good movie that much better.
Going with a hand-held style will always bring films like The Blair Witch Project to mind, but where as that was an intended documentary, Cloverfield takes more of an unplanned and guerrilla approach to the story. In preparing the look of the film director Matt Reeves viewed many examples of people personally documenting the aftermath of 9/11. That shaky style seemed to be the perfect way to tell this tale especially for a story that had the main characters very unsure of what was going on around them.It was a very fresh approach to a film this large and worked by showing only glimpses of the much larger story going on around. The story of Cloverfield was told basically through the perspective of a drinking straw which added incredible depth and scale to the film.
I think one of the films strengths was that with quasi-unknowns you could never tell who was going to live and who was going to die. Finding out what would happen to the characters next was as big of a mystery as what exactly the monster/alien was. With what appeared to be a CW level of acting I was actually quite impressed with the main character Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David). Also, in a smaller part I found Lizzy Caplan to be a compelling role playing Marlena. Without much back story or tons of time investing us in the characters there was still, I thought, a great level of connection going on, especially when you consider that these were all just normal people.
In what was a pretty simple story (as far as set up characters and arcs) and a short running time but the film still felt larger than life. I’m not going to say that yes I felt like I was part of the action but the shaky cam style definitely sucked me in to a few scenes that I wasn’t expecting. One of the most brilliant and yet simple uses of abundant green screen, Matt Reeves and his crew were able to easily blur the lines of what was real and what was composite imagery.
Above all else the was an element of the story that really floored me. I don’t know how many people know this but the alien wasn’t some monster on a bender to take down Manhattan. No, it was in fact a baby and the ensuing carnage was likened to a scared young animal eagerly searching for its parents. I found that an intriguing concept because that immediately makes me think, “how and why was it dropped in the ocean??” and the inevitable “when will we see the mother/father???“.
Godzilla of America? No, only because this hasn’t been done a thousand times over and isn’t a tale about dueling monsters repeatedly obliterating a city. But Yes because it is the only city toppling creature feature that I can recall. A wildly imaginative, fun and thrilling take on the Japanese mainstay. After hearing the rumors of a Cloverfield sequels for so long I have really stopped holding my breath. Although Super 8 looks much more promising and intriguing. Perhaps that’ll be the Cloverfield sequel we’ve all been waiting for. Either way “Clover” is still one movie monster for the books.