Cloverfield has gotten a lot of buzz from the connection with producer J.J. Abrams, who did Lost, Alias, and who has bid to be the savior of the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible movie franchises, and is one of the all-around movie wonderboys of the new century. Guess his is a brand name on things, and all knees genuflect to him at Comic-con.
Okay fine, just as long as he stays sober. I chose not to get Lost in his addictive series-TV work, and so I wouldn't know Abrams from Adam on the street. But I can appreciate a good creature-feature when I see one, and Cloverfield - only produced by Abrams, and directed with much cleverness by Matt Reeves - is pretty amazing. Just allow that it's a basic monster-on-the-loose plotline, no more, no less.
Don't look for strong themes, morals, or even explanations of how/what/who/why the monster is and what happens to it. The message is the medium; this apocalyptic epic takes place, just like The Blair Witch Project, entirely through the lens of a DV camera that happens to be running (with unlimited battery life, apparently) when a hideous Cthulu-meets-Godzilla lookalike creature attacks Manhattan one May night. A group of young suspiciously acne-free Gen-Y MBA types (wisely portrayed by no-name actors) are having a party for one of their own and his imminent departure to take a juicy job in Japan (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) when a scaly horror starts knocking over high-rises and taking big gulps of bystanders. Not even the unleashed US military can do much at all against the unexplained behemoth. Maybe they even created it somehow, one character suggests (and yes, there's a bit of a resemblance to the Stephen King adaptation The Mist on that and several other counts).
The overarching idea is that you're getting a panicked-extra's-eye view of the sort of outsized monster mayhem that happened in, say, Roland Emmerich's ill-remembered Godzilla remake (or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Ghostbusters or whatever), as NYC skyscrapers fall before the towering, incomprehensible menace, and the characters we've come to know and care about mostly through inference and outtakes try to scuttle to safety. The intensity is such that you almost don't notice that there's no incidental music, just the ominous pounding of the monster's footsteps. Sit through the closing credits, though, for a great closing theme that's like a pastiche of every stomping-Tokyo sci-fi flick fanfare ever done.
It's an excellent rethink of genre tropes for anyone who ever stayed up past bedtime to watch War of the Gargantuas on UHF-TV. Of course, 9/11 angst is a major component here, echoed in shaky camcorder images of stampeding crowds, victims in makeshift field hospitals and fires burning in the Ground Zero remains of trampled skyscrapers. If I may digress, itâ?Ts interesting that not long ago when the pop-pundits of the endlessly conceited Baby Boomer generation bemoaned that the nation would NEVER get over the trauma of Sept.11, 2001. That the Twin Towers falling were a sacred motif, to be used only to rally troops against our enemies and memorialize the fallen. Movies at the time that included terrorism, mass destruction of NYC landmarks, or bomb elements were banned, anyone remember that?
How things have changed. I give it just a year or two before Broken Lizard or Judd Apatow does a hit comedy about horny FDNY rookies in the Intensive Care Ward on Sept. 12, trying to score with hot young WTC widows suddenly rich with jackpot cash from the life-insurance policies and charity donations. Bet the deal will be done once the Writers Strike wraps.