Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I like Cloverfield

It has no stars, no establishing shots, and no soundtrack. The main characters do not solve their dilemma. The people who survive are not who you would expect. Instead of the editing and cinematography informing the story, the story informs the cinematography and editing. Even the flashbacks in the film are handled within the convention of the story.

In a regular film, the cut represents what we don't see...and what we don't see is the real story. That story only exists in the mind of the audience. Cloverfield works similarly because the story largely exists outside the frame, so it too is in the mind of the audience. That's why the shaky cam in this film is not lazy filmaking but actually very precise cinematic storytelling. The genius of Cloverfield is that it does not feel limited to angles even though there is one camera held by one person. The acting and the special FX often live out of frame. Every big FX film tries to convince you that the world the story takes place in is bigger than the camera can contain but none have achieved it like this. Anyone who has played through a first person video game understand the excitement of discovering what's off screen. They even named the man with the camera Hud as in heads up display.

If Cloverfield achieves a certain kind of ultra reality, and truth is the goal of any filmmaker, then why wouldn't this convention be the best way to present all films? I think because people identify with films as dreams and most dreams are in third person. Cloverfield is scary because it violates the conventions of dreams. The embedded love story suggests a take home message, but it's really just there to string the collasal events together. Tell your loved ones you love them before it's too late. Beyond that it's all visceral, reactionary cinema that will tax your body.

Cloverfield is not perfect and it won't be my favorite film this year. It's just so different. One problem I had with it was the performance of Hud. His vocals somehow feel disembodied like they were mixed in afterward. Maybe the DVD mix will fix this. Also his dialogue occasionally feels forced. Luckily there are only a few moments like this. What the film does well, is let the characters be silent at the right times. Consider the scene when Rob deals with the event that involes his brother. He doesn't say a word for nearly 15 minutes. Or when Marlena gets an eyefull of the disaster at hand. She walks around in a daze for the next ten minutes.

I've seen people have the time of their lives in this film and then get mad because they didn't expect the ending. The opening frame is brilliant and it immediately puts you in a weird state. Each time I have seen this film, the first 3 seconds has gotten a theater goer to yell out.."ooooh crap!" because they thought the projector was broken. This is the biggest clue that the ending will be unexpected. Part of the fun of this film is the audience's reaction. Once this film leaves the theater, it will lose much of it's thrill. The technical achievement Cloverfield has to offer is astounding. It is a unique cinematic experience, and for a monster movie, unprecedented.


Blogger Matt Schramer said...

My response to "Cloverfield" is much like the one I gave while sitting through it - mouth ajar and completely bewildered. I can't compare my experience to anything else. I almost feel like I had to wipe my movie viewing history absolutely clean in order to grasp what I felt afterwards. Not only did the film put me in the action and terror that the characters encountered, but I actually felt like a character in the film - vulnerable and unprotected behind the camera.

There may not have been any outward expression on my face of my own inner distress, but one thing is for sure - my mind was uneasy and completely aware that there was danger even beyond the confines of the screen or any given scene.

Although the film did not tread on any poignant or uplifting path and it had its fair share of pot holes, it turned out to be an excellent experiment in reactionary cinema. What I mean is this. The entire film truly forced me to react to every moment, rather than predict the next moment. There was no time to prepare myself for any scene ahead or to even analyze what I was experiencing in the moment. In that way it became comparable to a roller coaster with continual drops and no gradual ascents. Deprived of information my imagination kicked in and transformed this film into a thrilling experience.

3:09 PM  

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