Friday, 26 August 2011

Film review: Cloverfield


I've been considering add this to my Lovefilm list, although I was never completely convinced.  The trailer for the film made it look a lot like another Godzilla movie - and yes, I've enjoyed the Jurassic Park series, and I've watched bits of the new Godzilla film, but the genre has never really appealed to me.  However, when Cloverfield showed up on the TV listings, I set the recorder and figured I'd pick it up when there was nothing on the TV.  

Cloverfield goes for the innovative approach of filming everything from the first person, with a hand-held camcorder (or at least making it look that way).  The film starts steadily, as one night a huge monster starts ripping up a city.  Which city?  I'll give you a clue:  it's the main city in Independence Day, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Spiderman...  yes, once again, New York is the shortcut for 'any main Earth city'.  Normally, I'd include a summary of the plot in my review, but I'm going to struggle for this film.  There isn't much plot.  Monster rips up city; army arrives eventually; conventional weapons are utterly useless; government authorises use of nuclear weapons.  The remaining story revolves around a group of civilians (including our cameraman) who aren't intelligent enough to run away, and instead, insist on 'documenting' everything.  Their motivation for this isn't clear, and as I watched our characters head towards the danger, while crowds of intelligent people started felling, I lost any interest or sympathy for them.  

The other main character - the monster - had no character at all.  It was extremely difficult to feel anything for it - was it an evil enemy bent on destruction and conquest?  Was it from outer space or under the ground?  Was it - as one of the characters suggested - from under the sea?  Was it lost?  Was this a misunderstood first contact going badly wrong?  It was part - and an unfortunate part - of the film's set-up that it's almost entirely filmed from one perspective; perhaps the film was going for the idea of portraying the details of a monster attack (I refuse to call it an alien invasion) from an individual's point-of-view.  If it was, then it didn't work, for three key reasons:  the cameraman and his associates were not particularly well drawn as characters (despite the occasional flashbacks); they kept running towards trouble, instead of away from it, and the film failed to answer one question sufficiently for me:  why didn't he just ditch the camera, which was slowing him down and took up one of his hands, and run?

I know I'm slating this film, but, apart from the criticisms I've levelled against it already, there are a few good points.  There's a section in the film where our characters are walking along a tunnel to ... well, I think they were looking for a safe way to get closer to the monster to look at it; I don't think they were trying to escape.  I must have missed the line that explained this entry in their list of poor decisions.  Anyway, they're traipsing along in the dark, when suddenly, a couple of mini-aliens (looking like a smaller, dressed-down version of the bugs in Starship Troopers) start attacking them, snapping and biting and scratching and generally causing lots of trouble.  One of the cast suffers a scratch or a bite to her shoulder, and, when the team take a proper look at it, it's infected and looking decidedly alien.  I surmised at this point that she was going to turn into an alien (something like District 9), but I was wrong.  The team make their way back to the surface, and are found by the army, with one soldier delivering the best line of the film, "We're not sure what it is, but we know one thing: it's winning."  

However, despite one of the team being seriously wounded, and is desperate for treatment, the characters decide they still want to go and rescue their friend (they assume that she's as daft as they are, and hasn't made a run for it).  Not, "Please will you treat our friend's shoulder," but, "We know we're unarmed, but want to go risk our necks too, where's the way out?"  Fortunately (for the story, not for the characters), one of the medical staff in the army's triage centre spot the wound, and with a shout of, "Bite!" they whisk the female lead (now bleeding from the eyes) out behind a screen, where she dies a very swift and dramatic death.  Still undeterred, our characters (I'm not calling them heroes, sorry) manage to get back outside, with the promise of a helicopter pick-up in the following morning.  They find their friend's apartment block, toppled over and leaning on another adjacent tower.  Has the friend run away?  Has she died?  Do we care?  Do the characters?  No.  They decide that it makes sense to go up the adjacent block and then jump across.  Oh dear.

At least the army and military have the right idea, as we see fewer armoured vehicles on the ground, and more aircraft firing missiles and dropping bombs, as our characters go one their crazy mission.  I think I can summarise my disappointment or dislike of this film with one of the final scenes; the crew enter the tower block, and try the lifts.  They don't work, so they decide to take the stairs, and I suddenly realised the stupidity of what I could be about to witness:  a trio of people climbing all the stairs of a skyscraper.  Fortunately for me, Mr Cameraman pressed the pause button a few times, to save me from total boredom (but highlighting how bored I was at this point) and during one conversation on the stairs, he and his friend say, "What are you talking about?" "I'm just talking.  I don't know why I'm talking."  Sadly, sir, you're the only narrative to this story.  Otherwise, if you don't know why you're talking, then, even more sadly, neither do I.

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