Tuesday, January 15, 2008
An Advance Screening: CLOVERFIELD (01-18-08)
Okay, so the hype on this film has been deafening. And, can you blame it? It was executive produced by J.J. Abrams (ALIAS, LOST, FELICITY, MI:3) and his BAD ROBOT PRODUCTIONS. The youtube, jaimeandteddy.com, etc sites as well as the leaked footage and various trailers/faux trailers would lead up to probably one of the most intense and mind-boggling films of the year, right?
NOT...JJ is 0 for 3 with CLOVERFIELD/1-18-08 in terms of product he's produced or directed that was worth the hype and turned out to fall VERY SHORT of expectations--both audience and not.
The basic premise of the story is this: Five New Yorkers throw their friend a going away party the night a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city. Told from the point of view of a video camera, the film is a document of their attempt to survive the most surreal, horrifying event of their lives.
So, I walked in with no expectations. I knew the cast was comprised of virtual unknowns (with Lizzy Caplan from CBS' cancelled The Class and 04's Mean Girls as Janice Ian being the most known), which is a great plus. I do give JJ credit for finding talented actors to be in any of the projects he directs, writes or produces (Jennifer Garner from ALIAS, Kerri Russell from Felicity, etc.) And, I knew that SOMETHING was being shown in the movie.
But, I wasn't expecting the film to be a complete and utter disappointment. I guessed that the "something" that was part of the hype was a monster. But, I wasn't expecting it to be a cracked out Godzilla imitation. Yes, there were some clear homages to Godzilla and some of the more classic sci-fi films of recent note: One of the main characters, Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David, is going to Japan for a job. Where did the original Godzilla take place? Japan. T.J. Miller plays Hud, the wisecracking and occasionally spineless "fifth wheel" that grows a pair of balls while documenting the carnage. Hud is a shortened form of HUDSON, the wisecracking, somewhat spineless, and ultimately bad-ass character Will Paxton played in James Cameron's classic, ALIENS (1986), and so on and so forth.
Don't get wrong...I LOVE the pop culture references and winks. But, don't rely on those at the EXPENSE of story.
There was no explanation of where the monster came from: Was it the result of a bad government experiment gone wrong? The result of centuries of pollution and waste being dumped into the East and Hudson River? Was the monster an alien from another planet and are there more coming? How was it able to birth "babies"? Was it male? female? both? neither?
I'm not saying give me an act explaining all of this. A simple shot of someone dumping radioactive waste and pollution into the river and it hitting some organism would have sufficed...It would have made my experience suspending disbelief and enjoying the film even more. This wasn't done, and I just couldn't feel for the story or the characters.
The characters were another issue. I will give JJ and his team this: They know how to write for women. Or, at least female characters that aren't as stereotypical as they normally are in sci-fi/horror films. Marlena (Caplan), Lily (Jessica Lucas, a Canadian actress who was added to the cast of C.S.I. as Ronnie Lake, a possible replacement for Sara Sidle, for the fans of the show), and Beth (Odette Yustman, currently a cast member of ABC's October Road) were all very strong women who, given the circumstances, performed and reacted very realistically. All three were wary of the choices made by the other friends in the film, and all three show serious strengths and guts when needed (Marlena cracking the baby monsters with a pipe in the subway tunnels--ONE-handed--STILL giving us "rising model actress with Lower East Side cred circa 2000 and beyond and WORKING a pair of thigh high wedges..FIERCE, I tell you! FIERCE! :); Lily also kicking ass in the subway and bravely (though irresponsibly) taking the lead to Beth's apartment to find her; Beth bravely handling what happened to her arm at her apartment when the others came to get her) I mean, the women in the film were great!
The men, not so much. I just felt that Hud, Rob, and Jason were annoying as hell. There's a monster attacking Manhattan what would possess you to a) crawl UP the bridge to get a better look JUST as the monster destroys a section of the bridge with YOU on it (Jason Hawkins, played by Mike Vogel), b) decide to blindly run to save the girl who broke UP with you and never loved you in the first place and walk right INTO the path of the monster (Rob Hawkins), c) decide to walk into a subway tunnel (the 6 train) with NO LIGHTS thinking the monsters who were attacking the city outside WOULDN'T be in the tunnel (Rob, Hud, Lily, and Marlena), or, my favorite, d) walk right into the path of the monster..and FILM it as it swoops down to EAT you for breakfast (Hud). I just felt that the decisions the characters made in the film could have SO been avoided. I get that they were there to prolong the action. But, they were boneheaded decisions. And, I just couldn't feel or care enough to be involved in these people's lives. So little was given about them that the viewer kinda wanted them to be eviscerated by the monster JUST so the movie would be better...
Overall, I wasn't impressed at all. Abrams didn't write this, but I just felt like so MUCH of what could have made this an intriguing film was either left on the cutting room floor or was deleted from the shooting script in order to focus more on the monster and the gore...
And, it was gory...Marlena's death was particularly gory (I mean, did you HAVE to make her EXPLODE from being bitten by the baby monsters? Couldn't she have gone out in a better way?), the carnage at the quarantine center was nasty, and the monster itself was very vile and scary in some places.
But. the inconsistences (If Marlena succumbed to the monster bites, why didn't the others, particularly Hud, who appeared to be bitten in the crotch of all places (OOOH, HOW YOU DOIN? ALL RIIGHT?) Like I didn't see THAT ONE! A very nice and OBVIOUS way of suggesting that Hud was TOTALLY emasculated in the face of a powerful woman he liked (Marlena) were just too much in a film that was only 90 minutes long.
I am probably in the minority, but I did not like this film at all. It was a very bad attempt at trying to update the monster flick and make it "edgy" with the shaky hand-held camera work, the monster theatrics, etc. Unfortunately, what was missing was fully fleshed out characters and a realistic story in a sci-fi/horror vein. CLOVERFIELD wasn't it.
For a better monster film, rent the Korean sci-fi/horror/thriller/comedy/drama THE HOST. This movie had many of the things Cloverfield didn't and it WORKED given that it covered issues as varied as race, class, the role of family, environmentalism, language barriers, pop culture.
Sidenote: Whoever did the special effects for the monster and did the set design for the film should get PLENTY of awards for the 2008 Oscars. On a budget of 30 million dollars, they sure as hell made a VERY on point and realistic Lower East Side (most of the film was filmed in studios in LA, but parts of it were done in New York City). Really...they should be.