Day: January 21st, 2008

“I saw it. It’s alive. It’s huge.”

Monday, January 21st, 2008 | All Things, Film

Yes, I bought into the hype. Last summer’s viral marketing campaign surrounding fanboy-favorite J.J. Abrams’s new project, the nameless trailer, the cryptic film website www.1-18-08.com (Cloverfield’s release date), the flurry of possibly affiliated websites… it all proved irresistible to my inner — and outer — geek.

The conceit: a videotape retrieved from the area “formerly known as Central Park” after an apocalyptic incident code-named “Cloverfield.” Described as Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project (sprinkled with 9/11 anxieties), the entire film is shot with a handheld camera, so those sensitive to motion sickness should consider themselves forewarned. (With a running time of 84 minutes, the shaky camera work is intense, yet mercifully brief.) The movie begins at a downtown loft party, populated by a certain type of insufferable New Yorker, on a night when Manhattan comes under attack by an enormous, briefly-glimpsed monster. What is the morbid fascination movie-goers have with watching New York City get destroyed?

Cloverfield has a lo-fi look, but impressive special effects, which allegedly cost a little over $30 million. To put it in perspective, that’s just $10 million more than Will Smith’s salary for I Am Legend, the other NYC-based apocalyptic film in theaters now.

Here, the single camera POV works well in conveying the chaos and mass confusion. The disorientation and visceral panic of being down in the streets in the midst of the destruction kept the tension high throughout. As typical for this type of film, my emotional investment in the characters was minimal — let’s face it, they’re not a particularly sympathetic group — but the alternating glimpses of original tape footage, showing one of the telegenic couples during recent, happier times does work effectively in jarring juxtaposition. (It is in those sweetly intimate snippets that we see hints of director Matt Reeves’s previous work with Abrams on the WB’s “Felicity.”)

Columbus Circle

The Times’s Manohla Dargis appreciated Cloverfield quite a bit less (“Rarely have I rooted for a monster with such enthusiasm“), but other critics responded more positively. More importantly, from the studio’s perspective, so did audiences, who flocked to theaters opening weekend to the tune of $41+ million in ticket sales, surpassing the January record of $35.9 million set by the Star Wars special edition re-release in 1997.

By the way: a gigantic reptilian beast laying waste to Manhattan, dropping vicious crab/spider creatures along the way — sure… could happen. Cell phones working during the siege — hmm, seems unlikely, but… well, okay. But reaching Bloomingdale’s from Spring Street on foot via subway tunnel in a few, albeit action-packed, real-time minutes? The audience at our afternoon screening audibly scoffed. C’mon… it’s clear that writer Drew Goddard, director Reeves and producer Abrams all hail from L.A. because as any New Yorker could tell you: that just makes no sense whatsoever.

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