Before I went to see "There Will Be Blood", the wife and I took in a showing of "Cloverfield," Matt Reeves and JJ Abrams' New York monster movie. It was much better than I was expecting. This was what I liked about it:
1.) Massive Wish Fulfillment. The first 20 minutes were deeply annoying to me on account of being forced to "meet" all of these pretty, winsome, upwardly mobile white New Yorkers and subjected to their "lives"and "personalities." But just when my seething resentment was reaching critical mass, a giant monster able to read my mind and feel my feelings, blew his top, (doubtless over the same things that pissed me off), and began to systematically destroy not only these yuppie bastard's lives, but their entire ecosystem: the island of Manhattan. Because I'm a dork, I thought of "weird fiction" writer HP Lovecraft throughout this movie. He despised New York City and I enjoyed imagining his reaction to seeing a movie in which a monster, not entirely unlike those of his own creation, leveling its skyscrapers to rubble and reducing its inhabitants to, first, tears, and then, monster-tooth plaque.
2.) No Explanation. No one ever finds out where the monster came from. Which is great, because within the conceit of the film -- that the mid-catastrophe exploits of a bunch of the aforementioned young and pretty are all being filmed by one of their friends who happens to have a videocamera -- it's unlikely that a viewing of this sort of video document would afford an explanation of the monster's origins. There are no answers to the mystery of "Where did It come from?!" in this movie because there were no scenes that took place in the Pentagon, or the White House, or wherever else you might think Michael Bay would set a scene if he had done this movie. I really liked that about it. And they never explained the title either. How cool is that?
3.) No Happy Ending. Abrams and Co. didn't kowtow to execs (or their own demons) who probably thought the movie might do better if Jeff Goldblum could find a way to upload a virus into the monster at the end. This movie is a document of the demise of Manhattan, and that's what it's going to show. Hell, a title at the beginning of the "video" states the ending clearly before we see even a single frame of the actual movie, and they stay true to the premise. I think "The Mist" could have learned something from the ending of this movie.
4.) An Honest Attempt at a Romantic Storyline. The tape that comprises the bulk of what becomes "Cloverfield" is taped over a day at Coney Island that the one white guy, Rob I think was his name, spends with some pretty girl who he spends the entire movie trying to rescue. I don't remember her name. I didn't buy them as characters or as a couple for a second, but technically, the way Reeves and Abrams manage to weave their story into the larger story was cleverly done. After they're both dead and they cut to the final Coney Island clip, their happy smiling at the camera and earnest remarks about this being a "really good day" manages to be almost touching.
5.) Massive Carnage. When the mohnshtuh demolishes the building way down the street, and the smoke comes billowing toward the camera at lightning speed, whew. Gripping, scary stuff. I thought the way these guys pulled off the effects in this movie was brilliant. I was on the lookout throughout the movie for false notes and fake-looking CGI, but I wasn't pulled out for a second. They did a really good job.
6.) An Apocalyptic Nightmare That Never Lets Up. Aside from Hud making some goofy jokes throughout the movie, Reeves and Abrams don't let up on the tension for a minute. This movie goes fast and doesn't stop. And this movie gets the proper tone just right. Throughout "Cloverfield" the feeling that we're really watching something cataclysmic and earth-shaking while it's happening, is palpable. And as implausible as it all is, they make it seem real. Quite an accomplishment.
7.) It's a Damn Monster Movie. "Cloverfield" isn't high art. It isn't a movie about something that's really about something else. (Well, that's mostly true.) This is a monster movie, and Reeves and Abrams made a great one unapologetically.
And if you'll indulge me, I have a little pet theory about the origin of the monster. As some of you may know, Stephen King (of COURSE his name was bound to turn up!) and JJ Abrams have gotten to be kind of buds. King loves Abrams' show "Lost", and Abrams loves all things Stephen King. At some "Lost" symposium which King attended, Abrams and King go to talking about how it would be if King adapted "The Dark Tower", King's epic Western/Fantasy, for the movies. King thought that'd be fine. Which brings us to "Cloverfield."
When the little beasties that come off the monster's back end up in the subway tunnel with our little gang, we get a brief close up of their heads and "faces." To me they look like slightly smaller versions of the monsters that populate the broad swaths of Mid-World that Blaine the Monorail travels over, as depicted in Ned Dameron's illustrations from King's "The Waste Lands." I know, I know, kinda obscure. The creatures sparked the memory while I was watching the movie, but just now, to confirm for this blog post, I checked the illustration on the book and the resemblance is real, if not uncanny. I'm just saying, it's not a stretch to think that Abrams has tied, even if only in secret, "Cloverfield" into King's "Dark Tower" universe. A distant prequel, if you will. (And some of the weird meta-marketing Abrams and Co. did, like the weird Japanese soda which may be the Japanese version of Nozz-a-La, the soft drink referred to often in the "Dark Tower" universe, may support that idea.) Anyway. Just a theory.
So anywho! If you haven't seen it, check it out before it slithers out of theaters. I think it's worth your time. At least for a matinée.