First Reaction to Cloverfield - They Have Created a Classic
by Alex Billington
January 16, 2008
Finally after 6 months since the first discovery, it's here. J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves have created a new classic monster movie. It is everything you expect and it's also nothing you expect. This movie feels so real that it's not even a movie, it's an entire incredible experience. Cloverfield is less of an epic monster movie and more of a suspenseful dramatic small-scale flick that you experience, not just watch. It's one-of-a-kind, unforgettable and, like 300 last year, has all of those f**king awesome scenes you want, but also has a strong story. Why I love it so much is that it wasn't the same old epic monster movie that we've seen, but it was something incredible, awesome, fresh and different.
In Cloverfield we are first introduced to Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a young New Yorker who has just taken a new job in Japan. What we are being shown is footage from his own video camera, which jumps between the day after he first makes love to his longtime friend Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) and the day the monster arrives, which I'll henceforth dub D-Day. At his surprise going away party, which is thrown by Lily (Jessica Lucas), her fiancé Jason (Mike Vogel), who is also Rob's brother, and Rob's friend Hud (T.J. Miller), who is the cameraman, we are thrown into the thick of the action when "something" attacks New York and Rob and his friends must scramble to stay alive. At the party we also discover that Rob has had problems with Beth after "that night" and now sets off to find Beth, even though she left early from the party on a rough note and with another guy.
Like the Korean monster flick The Host, this isn't the kind of Hollywood movie that follows that pre-defined structure where the monster never gets revealed until that big "final" moment at the end. This is a movie that is following the group of friends who stumble upon this monster quite quickly, and the most I'll say is that you certainly do get some quality contact with it. However, Cloverfield really is not the epic, enormous monster blockbuster that the hype has made it into, and that is very important to remember. It's a very small film that is focused around this group and how they can get out of the city and survive. To some, this could turn out as a huge disappointment, and even for me, as a big summer blockbuster fanatic, I initially had a mild feeling of disappointment.
However, that feeling was overshadowed by that of the notion that why I loved this so much in the end is that it wasn't that epic kind of movie and that's what made it so unique and so memorable. The hand-held camera style shot by the character Hud, who for me becomes the tragic character in the story, is really what defines everything about Cloverfield. It was best described by someone else once before: in Godzilla movies there are those people who run and scream, and this is a movie about them and their story when the monster attacks.
One of my favorite scenes from Cloverfield was when they run into the monster and get caught up in the military gunfight after the bridge scene. Instead of this being the same old scene you'd fine in a Michael Bay movie, which, yes it has the guns and explosions and intensity, but it's from the viewpoint of an actual character - Hud - that you really care about. He's being pinned down next to a car and watches as all the soldiers run by and fire everything they've got at this monster, and he doesn't know what it is, and he doesn't care, because he's trying to stay alive and keep his friends alive. I love that the camera itself is in essence a character, because the character is carrying it. That adds a whole new "life" into the movie which is what helps turn it into more of an experience, like you're right there with him, rather than just watching it cinematically.
I won't say that Cloverfield is the perfect movie, because it really was nothing that the hype made it out to be and I am still having a problem accepting that. I really think that with some time and some consideration and possibly multiple viewings a little further down the road, I'll come to love Cloverfield even more. It'll take some time for me to get over the fact that this isn't an epic summer blockbuster monster flick, but rather a small movie about these people trying to survive and the relationship between them. And I'm already starting to get to that in my mind and starting to love it more and more as I type this out.
J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves have created a classic that I guarantee years from now will be remembered as the quintessential monster movie from this decade. The style is such a brave new step into a realm that no one has really touched upon or succeeded in (George Romero's Diary of the Dead was utter crap compared to Cloverfield), that this is a defining moment in both monster movie history and Hollywood history. Once you finally experience, not watch, Cloverfield, you'll understand how incredible it truly is and you'll never forget finally seeing this soon-to-be classic.
(There's so much more about this that I want to talk about: the incredible sound design and lack of any music, more on the character of Hud, the 9/11 comparison, the monster itself and the building of a monster franchise, and much more. I'll try and discuss more of this in another article later on this week.)