Saturday, January 19, 2008

Reel To Reel: Cloverfield

Alien vs. Camcorder in a terrifying tale of the tape.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Sci-Fi Violence And Disturbing 9/11-esque Images Of Destruction In New York City, Some Language

Producer J.J. Abrams, who brought us cool cult hits like Alias and Lost, delivers a frightening mash-up of The Blair Witch Project, Aliens, and War Of The Worlds mimicking the terror of September 11th to an uncomfortable degree. Watching the destruction of a New York City building and seeing the ash roll down the street, I can't ignore the haunting parallel to the news footage of that day. Sheets of paper glide down from the sky while dust-covered people wander the street and cough.

However, Cloverfield is tolerable because the root of this evil is a Godzilla-sized monster who lands on Earth, pulverizing real estate only because that's what movie monsters are supposed to do. Maybe he's ticked at not being cast in Alien Vs. Predator. I'd love to see Hollywood crank out a monster flick where some gigantic creature just sits off Long Island and watches us like a giant ant farm. I'd develop this plot further if we weren't in a writers' strike.

The film's premise, like Blair Witch, is the release of an amateur videotape discovered after the attack. We see everything through the lens of a camcorder, presumably one of those new high-definition ones, because it's the best looking camcorder video ever transferred to film -- even with all the shaking. It's also got the longest battery life I've ever seen, and it somehow manages to squeeze more than an hour of footage onto one of those DV cassettes. The tape starts out with some domestic life of a young New Yorker, then cuts to a farewell party for him shot by a friend. Just as the movie is turning into The Social Gaffe Project, something smashes into Manhattan. People hit the streets for a closer look, and then the head of the Statue of Liberty lands right in front of them with the camera rolling. Poor Lady Liberty. Planet Of The Apes wasn't enough of an insult.

A few more buildings blow up, and for the first time we get a glimpse of this grotesque creature that's stomping down Broadway. Worse, he's dropping little grotesque creatures all over the place who resemble the ooky lifeforms Sigourney Weaver shot up all those years ago. The rest of the film follows a group of three friends as they try to save the guest of honor's girlfriend while running around to escape the creature and his buddies.

Cloverfield's visual effects amaze me because they blend so well with the camcorder footage, and yet the movie doesn't present anything we haven't seen in other monster and horror films. It's a low-budget (only $25 million according to Box Office Mojo!) scare flick with a glossy CGI finish, and yet it left me clinging to my seat, breathing shallow and knowing none of this is going to end well. Thus, it achieved its goal.

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