Sunday, 13 April 2008

Film: Cloverfield

I was thinking of a broader name to catalogue any comments on films I may have that would be clever and wistful. Unfortunately, this failed and I have instead settled with "Film". It’s not too original or particularly clever, but it does get the message across that this post will be about a film. I suppose the only possible confusion you may get is if you are a photography enthusiast but never mind.

I am well aware that Cloverfield has in fact been out for a long time (to the point whereby it's out on DVD shortly) but this did not stop me from seeing it at the cinema last week, courtesy of the Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square, a fantastic independent cinema that doesn’t leave you with the feeling that the guy at the box office somehow managed to trick you out of your life savings.

The basic premise of the film is that New York is attacked by a Godzilla sized monster of unknown origin. Most people hearing that will roll their eyes and move on, but its the "gimmick" of the film that makes it interesting, as this has been filmed to look like the whole event has been recorded on a camcorder. Whereas this isn't quite as low grade film quality as The Blair Witch Project with the picture quality being a little more polished, it's a similar idea, just with a giant monster instead of a spooky forest.

The film was written by Drew Goddard (of "Lost" fame), so I was expecting a few twists and a bit of suspense, but to be honest, it didn't really let off any genre breaking fireworks, staying around some fairly clichéd ground. Having said that, I would in no way level that as a criticism. All the way through watching the film, although having a rough idea of how things would pan out, who would make it and who wouldn't, it didn't feel like it had been done before, or that I'd seen everything that it had to offer, but that it was trying to do something different. Take for example the very premise of the film: A giant monster rampaging around New York. That idea has been done before, and is well trodden ground. The reason this looks so different is definitely the way its been shown, and that’s not to say that its been shot on a camcorder, its to say that it's shown from the point of view of the main characters. All the way through, you feel like you are the cameraman, one of the unlucky friends lumbered with a video camera before the monster shows up, and that you are there with them from start to finish. I think this is managed by never giving the audience any information that the characters don't have already. When one of the characters would say "what the hell was that?" they would largely be speaking what you were thinking. The only exception to all of this is that at the beginning of the film you're told that the film you are watching was found in a camera in Central Park, so when the surviving characters make it to the park, you have a rough idea that the film is drawing to a close.

I think the point that I'm trying to laboriously make is that it feels very real. This film has managed to make a monster attack on New York look realistic, not in the sense that the graphics are stunning, but that it gives the feel that it actually happened. Of course, the graphics are stunning. The special effects budget must have been huge, but the way they've made it even more effective is by not giving us a good look at these effects. You only get one or two good looks at the monster itself, and most of the destruction it causes is only seen in passing as the cameraman understandably is running as fast as he can. It's got a very similar style to when you see a journalist reporting in a war zone shortly before gunfire opens and everyone dives for cover with the cameras still rolling. In fact, the film felt so real I was pretty much out of breath by the time we left from all the running around that my brain thought it had been doing.

I think the best decision they made was to not explain the monster itself. I've already mentioned that you don't get a really good look at it, which is brilliant as I can't think of a single film that gets you terrified of a monster of some description and then maintains that terror after you've taken a good look at it. In Jaws, all fear left the audience once the mechanical shark made it's appearance about two thirds of the way through, to the point whereby the sequels might as well have been called "Fish". Even Alien lost some of the fear once you saw it close up (although not to the same extent). By the end of the film, all you really know about the monster is that the event has been code named "Cloverfield" and that it came from the ocean, but didn't necessarily start there.

I'm surprised this film got some harsh criticism. A few people reported motion sickness from the shaky camera work which I understand would probably put them off the film, but apart from that I can't see much to be upset about. Ok, so there are a few clichéd moments, some characters manage to move on from the death of their friends and relatives fairly quickly and everyone seems to deal with some serious looking injuries astonishingly easily, but these sort of things are in most films, and if characters really did break down mentally and physically in an overly realistic manner, the film would have some serious pacing issues. Maybe the fact that it had a lot of hype, or rather, it had very odd hype, contributed to peoples disappointment. It was kept a secret, it went under several different names in production, posters were leaked to conventions (or were they?) and everything got the people who were following it all really excited about the film. Maybe people were expecting something a little more interactive having spent the last six months on a virtual treasure hunt, or they were faced with the inevitable disappointment that too much hype will lead to.

I have no idea what people were expecting from this, but of course, that probably sums up why I enjoyed the film so much; I didn't know what to expect. Put that together with the fact that the Prince Charles Cinema is a really pleasant place to see a film and that I was with very good company, I suppose I was bound to enjoy it.

I would definitely recommend this to anybody. It’s doing something a bit different and is well worth the couple of hours it takes to watch.

I am currently on an Odeon boycott. This boycott fails whenever Fien, or one of my friends successfully finds a film that I wouldn’t mind seeing and arranges to go there, but the thought is still there. I recently got very frustrated by the fact that the tickets went up in price, but what really drove the nail into the coffin was that they ended up charging approximately £10 for a regular seat, and close to £15 for a “premiere” seat. A premiere seat is a little bigger, has a little more leg room, and is in that three-quarters back, central, location that is the ideal place to sit. This arrived in the Camden Odeon when I went to see the Golden Compass, and so in the largest screen, the six of us that went had to squash in around the rest of Camden that had gone to the cinema that evening, around the edges, whilst there were a good couple of hundred free seats in the middle that nobody was sitting on, because nobody was going to be shelling out that much money for a cinema ticket in the Camden Odeon, a place where if you stand still for too long, the popcorn cements your feet in place for eternity.
Incidentally, the fact that the film I saw was the Golden Compass may have been the thing that finally tipped me over the edge, but that’s a rant for another day. It could be worse though, my flatmate Kris couldn’t get the song “The Final Countdown” out of her head leading up to the film, but to make things worse, her brain had substituted the words “It’s the Final Countdown” with “It’s the Golden Compass”.

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