Synopsis: First person perspective of a giant monster attack on Manhattan.
Seeing Cloverfield again after Man of Steel got me thinking; if you removed the monster and added Superman and Zod flying around in the background this could essentially be a first person perspective of the destruction of Metropolis.
I vividly remember the feeling I had at the end of seeing Cloverfield at the cinema on opening weekend in 2008. It was one of nausea and adrenaline come down. I also remember thinking that JJ Abrams had just set a new benchmark for monster movies.
This wasn’t the Godzilla film we asked for. But it was the Godzilla film we had all wanted.
The beauty of Cloverfield is it can succinctly be summed up in a sentence without oversimplifying it or selling it short: a first person perspective of one man’s relentless desire to save his love in the midst of a monster mercilessly attacking Manhattan. Outside of that is pure destruction and carnage on an epic scale.
The film started as a conversation between lifelong friends JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves about how the iconic shot of the Statue of Liberty’s head landing on a Manhattan sidewalk would be really cool. They shot it as a trailer and then released it. No title. No context. Why? Because there was no movie. When everyone went batshit crazy for the trailer they decided they should probably make one. The process was pure Abrams. And to some degree the end product was as well.
Abrams gets popcorn sci fi like few others. It’s why he was a perfect choice for Star Trek. It’s why he will probably do an incredible job with Star Wars. Like his mentor Steven Spielberg, Abrams knows that films are hollow without heart. In Spielbergs great early popcorn sci-fi movies, ET and Close Encounters, the sci-fi elements were metaphors for the emotional stories playing out around them. In Jurassic Park Michael Crichton’s source material asked the big questions about DNA regeneration, but Spielberg provided the heart in his direction and handling of Sam Neill’s relationship with the children. It was something that Abrams emulated to great success with, what I think is his best work, Super 8. And while he was only a producer on Cloverfield, you can feel his influence all over it. The selling point may be the monster, and the epic destruction. But the heart of the film is the unwavering power of love providing people with hope and purpose in the most catastrophic situations.
Reeves, Abrams and Drew Goddard (script) had a vision for Cloverfield and stuck to it with astonishing results. It opens and ends abruptly. There is no music throughout. It is stark. Found footage wouldn’t have a non-organic soundtrack so why should the movie.
I normally hate, hate, haaaaaaate, found footage movies. Why? Because it is such a restrictive narrative device that directors either have to go to great lengths to contrive ways of weaving a camera into every scene, or gloss right over it and hope the audience don’t start thinking “hey wait a minute, why is he videoing his gardener taking a shit?”. I can’t stand it either way. There are exceptions though, when the film makers take care to make it as organic and unintrusive as possible. Blair Witch, Trollhunter and Chronicle are in that group. Cloverfield trumps them all for me though. The presence of the camera is introduced in a way that makes sense as to why there would be a camera. And while at times it’s continued presence under the circumstances sometimes seem stretched, it breaks the stupidity with a self referential nod, often helped by T.J. Miller’s comic relief. The use of the overwritten tape to weave in contextual flashbacks is also ingenious.
Visually, on the small screen, it still packs a punch. From the opening explosion and mass panic to the final assaults on the city it is at times equal parts claustrophobic and epic. It rarely lets you breathe, and when it does you’re holding what breath you do have waiting for something to go “RRRAAAAAWWWWW!!! BOOOOMMMMMMM!!! AAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!”.
The scenes of panicked crowds desperately outrunning rolling clouds of dust and debris, unaware of the cause of the devastation they are trying to avoid, can’t help but conjure up images of 9/11. Where scenes like that would once have seemed like an unlikely fictionalised vision of urban hell, they now seem all to real. Even 12 years on.
The snippets of the monster being revealed through the first act without ever giving you a full view is a great show of restraint. When you have a monster that you spend all that time designing you want to show it off. But again, just because you are there doesn’t mean you are going to see it. In fact chances are you’ve survived the length of a movie precisely because you haven’t come face to face with it. Again, it is all about organic narrative progression. In fact it is so effective when the monster finally is revealed it is somewhat of an anti-climax and left me wishing I had never fully seen it. But it’s a small point that can be forgiven in what is otherwise one of my favourite disaster movies of all time.
Fingers crossed that next years reboot of Godzilla takes it’s cues from Cloverfield and not Roland Emmerich.
Conclusion: This how JJ Abrams and co destroy cities. Let them at it more often!
Director: Matt Reeves – Screenwriter/TV director turned big screen director. Childhood friend of JJ Abrams (who produced Cloverfield). His next project is the next Planet of the Apes installment.
Writers: Drew Goddard – Another JJ Abrams collaborator who previously wrote on Lost and Alias. Also regularly collaborates with Joss Whedon having written for Buffy and Angel as well as sleeper hit Cabin In The Woods.
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miler, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Odette Annable, Mike Vogel
- Jason (Mike Vogel) can be seen wearing a Slusho! T-shirt throughout the movie. Slusho! is a drink from J.J. Abrams‘ show Alias as well as a codename of the film’s, and the shirt is the only time the beverage is acknowledged during the movie, with far more information hinted about it on the Internet.
- The title “Cloverfield”; initially just a codename for the movie, is named for the boulevard in Santa Monica where the Bad Robot offices were located during the making of the film.
- The film has no music score and music for the end credits do not begin until 1 minute and 30 seconds after the credits start rolling.