Cloverfield vs. I Am Legend
Posted on 28. Jan, 2008 by The Gimcracker in Beratings, Movies, Reference Burst Theory
A few weeks ago I saw a little film – don’t know if you’ve heard of it – called I Am Legend. It was good. Dang good. Yesterday I saw another movie called Cloverfield. It was better. Dang better. And that’s saying a lot because I Am Legend got at least a 2/10 Berating (soon to come).
I wanted to compare these films because they both take place in Manhattan, they both feature the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge and evacuation of the island of Manhattan, and they both contain potential world-ending (or at least city-ending) events that take place in the heart of New York City. Plus I saw them two weeks apart and they’re both fresh in my mind.
What are the chances of me seeing two movies in a row with such events in common as the decimation of the Brooklyn Bridge? There are so many bridges in the world, why this one? Beginning to sound a little like Reference Burst Theory™.
My hopes and dreams for Cloverfield were actually exceeded. To recap my preview-style post on Cloverfield:
1) I saw a mysterious trailer for an unknown movie
2) I found out it was called Cloverfield and it looked like Godzilla meets Blair Witch
3) It reminded me of Half-Life 2 because of the type of storytelling
4) I crossed my fingers that it would be really good and not really bad
As it turns out, it was very much like Half-Life 2. My premonitions were spot on, because they used my favorite type of film/game storytelling: first-person narrative paired with first-person visual perspective.
“Since the narrator is within the story, he or she may not have knowledge of all the events. For this reason, first-person narrative is often used… so that the reader and narrator uncover the case together.”
While the combination of these two storytelling devices exists frequently in video games, it is very rare in film, and that’s what makes Cloverfield so unique.
I Am Legend, on the other hand, is told in a much different fashion. It is not first-person perspective obviously, and since I’m not a literary expert (or even novice), I have no idea what type of narrative is used. Third-person limited, maybe? Who cares, that is not the point of this post. It is a fundamentally different type of movie, but it has many similarities to Cloverfield, and it is very good. Like Cloverfield, I Am Legend far exceeded my expectations, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk about it in a separate Berating post.
But I’m way more excited about Cloverfield right now, so on with the Berating.
This movie was a breath of fresh air amidst a sea of movies filled with computer generated special effects. Picture those old Playstation commercials where a Handycam captures some dudes in the back yard messing with a rocket launcher, or the Toyota commercials where an amateur camera records extraordinary things happening to a guy and his truck. Now picture an hour and 24 minutes of it in the context of a truly frightening plot. That’s what the CGI is akin to in Cloverfield. It was so well done, in fact, that I challenge someone to make a film that more accurately captures the essence of what it would really be like if you were in the same situation.
I’m not getting through to you. What would it be like if you were having a going away party with your friends and a horrible, gigantic monster came out of nowhere and began knocking over skyscrapers on the other side of the city at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then it started coming closer and you and your friends had to flee amidst wreckage, flying debris, and a bunch of shocked people who are all in survival-mode?
No, I’m not asking you what it was like in other movies like War of the Worlds and Independance Day. I’m asking you if you can really imagine what it would be like to actually be involved in a situation like that.
Just watch Cloverfield and you’ll know.
I loved this movie. I never thought I could love a monster movie completely devoid of a soundtrack filled with no-name actors with a fairly simple plot, but those are the elements that made Cloverfield a film worth watching. It was really scary and realistic. There was blood, but not excessive gore. For instance, when a piece of rebar is protruding through the shoulder of a female protagonist, pinning her to the floor, the camera is haphazardly tossed aside showing only her legs as her friends free her from her affliction.
We are constantly left wanting more. Since we are seeing the events as they happened through the lens of an amateur videographer instead of a full camera crew able to capture every angle of every scene, we only sort of glimpse a lot of the horrific things that are going on. We half-see a building being knocked down at a weird angle behind other spectators. Only our peripheral vision captures military RPGs striking the side of a giant unknown horror. We swivel around and barely witness an infected friend being scurried away by medical personal only to become, um, how shall I put it… “decontaminated”.
It’s ground-breaking storytelling and it’s a ride you won’t forget. It’s one of those films that affected me and it is a joy for me to replay over and over in my mind.
Some people may get, and have definitely gotten, very frustrated by this film. I can see three possible reasons for this. First, I can see frustration in the fact that we never really know what’s going on and we’re left with a cliff-hanger ending. As I have stated, I love that, but it might not be your personal cup of tea. If not, I feel bad for you, son. Next, I can see frustration in the fact that you never really get to feast your eyes upon the special effects. As the viewer, I was always moving my head to try to see different vantage points – like if I was at the back row of a concert trying to see the stage – only to remember that I am watching from a fixed point of view no matter how much I tilt and pivot my neck. A little frustrating, but overall necessary for the success of the film. Finally, some will definitely be frustrated – sickened actually – by the motion of the camera used in this film. Lots of people have gotten sick from the motion of the film, but don’t judge it by the first 5 minutes, because it actually gets a lot better for the rest of the movie (with small pockets of a lot worse here and there).
The review over at CNN.com says it much better than I can:
“Some viewers will find the style a mixed blessing at best — it’s not the smooth ride we’re used to, certainly, but then maybe this genre could use a good jolt. It’s easy to grow blase when computer graphics do all the work for you. Here we spend Act II straining to see whatever it is that’s laying waste to the city, and Act III recoiling from glimpses of something unspeakable.”
Acting – no beratings
Surprisingly good acting from a bunch of nobodies. I believed these people were going through this trauma, for the most part.
Plot – no beratings
Simple and potent.
Inconsistencies – no beratings
Unbelievable Events – no beratings
Sure, no one in their right mind would’ve been able to keep documenting the way our camera operator did, but I get the feeling our camera operator wasn’t exactly in his right mind.
Schematics – no beratings
When there’s no soundtrack, the soundtrack can’t be bad. That’s one way to do it.
Recommended Investment = Stand in line for the very first showing
0/10 Stand in line for the very first showing
1/10 See it the first weekend
2/10 See it at full price
3/10 See it at the Five-Buck-Club
4/10 See it at the dollar-fifty
5/10 See it OnDemand
6/10 Rent it from Blockbuster
7/10 Watch it on TV
8/10 Watch it purely for spousal points
9/10 Never watch it
10/10 Buy it and publicly destroy it
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our very first 0/10 Berating. I might buy it and publicly destroy it just to have the pleasure of buying it again.
I KNEW IT. Must go see now. Problem is, I would have to go alone – my wife would hate this movie for the very reasons I would love it.
My wife loved I Am Legend. She did not see Cloverfield with me. I’m really hoping she will like it when we go see it (second time for me) in the theaters. If not, at least I got to enjoy it again.
After Friday, I’ll hopefully be able to both read your spoiler-saturated post *and* tell you what I thought. For now, I just have to wait.
Hudd (our camera man) was an absolute idiot. He ruined the movie. Then again, if the character holding the camera hadn’t been an absolute idiot, he never would have filmed the whole thing. He would have been much more concerned with surviving.
I liked it, but it was crappy and stupid, while simultaneously being brilliant. I can say though, that if it hadn’t used the first person perspective it would have been just another crappy B movie. It’s like, they went, “Hrm… We have Maya, Adobe After-Effects, some actors, and a few hundred thousand to make some sets. No money for music, and a crappy, crappy, crappy script about a love story placed into the context of a monster movie. How can we make this not suck?” and then they just dropped all pretext of trying to make a good film, and just tried to tell an engaging story. Thus freeing themselves from having to have a full scale film crew, or anything like that. Then they spent all of their money on things that mattered, like sets and CG, and just completely ignored music and script and actors and anything that normally “makes” a movie. Then, since they didn’t have a good explanation for the “why”, “how” and “what” of the monster, they just went ahead and ignored the monster altogether, and made the movie a love story that just happened to have some monsters in it.
Hudd’s line in the movie (that when said, caused laughter and invited loud open berating from Brian Duebner who was sitting next to me) was brilliant because it summed up the entire movie so concisely and accurately.
“What is that?!?!!” – main girl Character
“Oh, that? That’s… That’s just a terrible thing.” – Hudd (camera man)
Pay no attention, that evil horror is inconsequential to your story. No, your job is just to be in love. Focus on your story, and the terrible thing that plagues your life, destroying all peace and joy, can never ever EVER take away your love.
Wow, very profound message came out of that unexpectedly…
Only an absolute idiot could keep video documentation at the top of his priorities list, even above staying alive. That’s the only way it could’ve worked.
I 100 percent disagree with your perception about how they went about making the movie. So, you’re saying some guys got together, happened to have $25 million laying around (the cost to make Cloverfield), and started making a movie, and only then did they think about what it was going to be about? I think your idea of how Hollywood movies are made might be a bit skewed. Although there do seem to be a lot of movies out there that look like they followed that scheme, I must say.
This movie is supposed to be what was captured on a recovered SD card of a monster terrorizing Manhattan from an amateur observer’s Handycam. Your problem is that you are attempting to use the same type of critiquing for Cloverfield that you use for, say, Transformers. You must’ve missed the whole point of the film. How could this SD card have a soundtrack? Or a script? Or offer a complete answer to the “why”, “how”, and “what”? If it had any of that, it would lose the whole effect. That’s why this movie is different. That’s why it’s so good.
It was supposed to be realistic. Movies are inherently unrealistic. Thus, this movie was made differently than most other movies.
I also think the love story was well done. It gave the movie meaning. I think ultimately that’s what we, as humans, truly value deep down. When it comes to life and death situations, we go into survival mode. Just ask anyone who’s ever been on the edge of death. They see white lights, their lives flash before their eyes, they suddenly think only about their loved ones. Remember Cory Gliege’s story about when he almost drowned? He said all he thought about at that point was his loved ones. I think that in a situation like Cloverfield when all that you know has been destroyed, all the physical, superficial things in life go away, you are left thinking about the people that really matter to you.
That was a brilliant point in the movie and made it worth it for me. When he finally got to her and freed her and spent his last seconds on Earth with her, I knew this movie was something special. Not just another shoot ‘em up where everyone dies for no reason.
I respect your opinion about the film, but I think you went into the theater in the wrong mood, or with the wrong expectations. I think the creators of this film were trying to actually give us something different for a change. It sounds like you were just expecting the same old thing.
I guess you can’t please everyone. There are a lot of people out there that did not/will not like this film. There are also a lot of people out there that thought Transformers was a masterpiece. That doesn’t mean it actually was a masterpiece. (For some reason, I’m willing to wager a lot of those people watch Nascar and enjoy more of the “simpler” things in life. I don’t know why I think that, I just got this image in my head LOL)
Transformers is one of my favorite movies…
I’m a little confused about your reply. I never said “This is how the movie got made”, I said “It was like”. Meaning, “It was as if” not “It was”. Like “I pretended to be a dog” not “I am a dog”.
I know how the movie was made. J.J. Abrams was in Japan, saw Godzilla toys, decided he wanted an American monster movie, wanted it to be different, and went with a concept film. Another same old same old Godzilla or King Kong movie just wouldn’t have done (unless you’re Peter Jackson and can get them to give you a butt-load of money and permission to make 3.5 hour epic). So they went with something different.
The way it felt to me was as if some college kids got together and said, “we don’t have much money, but instead of making another crappy B-movie, let’s focus on one thing, and really devote ourselves to that one thing in a way that makes all of the rest of the “normal” movie things inconsequential”. They did it brilliantly.
I never ever said I thought they should have made a normal monster movie. What I thought I said, and what I meant to say, was that if they hadn’t made this film different, it would have sucked horribly. The only reason it was good was because it was so bad (in terms of what normally makes a good movie).
It’s kind of like if someone wants to draw a picture, but they just aren’t very good at drawing, or even if they are, they know they can’t beat the mona lisa at her own game. So instead of getting some really expensive paint, a big canvas, and really nice brushes, they pick up a box of crayons, and pad of crappy recycled yellowish drawing paper, and draw like a child. Instead of having a painting that could never get noticed in the midst of the current crowd of spectacular painting giants (or would never stand as “the best” for long), they end up with the most unique, spectacular, brilliant child’s drawing ever made, which only one or two other widely recognizable pieces can be compared to.
There’s only one other film that is comparable to this one (The Blair Witch Project) and this one blows that one out of the water.
They made a choice: Either make another mediocre monster flick that will eventually get topped/lost in the shuffle, or make something truly unique and a timeless classic that love it or hate it will stand forever as one of the most unique memorable films of 2008.
The fact that I’ve spent the entire day thinking about this film and reading about it online shows that I enjoyed it and although when rated on the same scale as normal movies it blows, can’t be rated on that scale because it is not a normal movie. This was the best you-tube video ever made.
I could’ve swore your first comment indicated you did not like the film. I just read it again and it says to me that you thought it was stupid. Even though you said at one point that you liked it, you went on to explain all the ways you hated it and none of the ways you like it.
And now I’m confused even more by your second comment. So you did like it? I’m lost… (no pun intended Mr. Abrams)
Yes and no.
As a film, I hated it.
As a you-tube video, I loved it.
This “movie” was not a movie or a film. It was the best you-tube video ever made.
Think of the fireworks factory explosion video on you-tube. Now, imagine that that was really the result of some nefarious dudes. Now, imagine the camera man was in the factory at the time it started burning, and spent the next 85 minutes trying to escape and being chased by bad people, only to eventually end up trapped on the roof of a nearby building, and died in the explosion. Now, imagine they “turned it into a movie” by just taking all of his footage and showing it in the theaters. What a horrible movie! But, if they don’t bill it as a movie, but rather bill it as “spectacular amateur footage of a man trying to escape after being caught in the middle of a successful plot to blow up a fireworks factory” then it’s amazing!
So what I’m saying is that, as a monster movie, it blew. As amateur footage of people trying to escape after being caught in the middle of a monster attacking new york, it was amazing.
You comparing it to I Am Legend made me think it was going to be a movie. I was initially reacting to that. Then, realizing that this is not a movie but rather that this is spectacular home footage recovered from the site of a horrific attack by a monster, I decided it was awesome.
This is important. If you go to see a movie about a monster, you will be disappointed. If you go to see a you-tube video of an engaging story about two people in love who are trying to rescue eachother and escape a monster attacking new york, you will not be disappointed.
I hope I have adequately expressed my opinion this time…
Oh, ok so you didn’t like it. I was just confused, that’s all.
That sucks because I bet you were so hyped up for it after reading my review. I should have written at the top of it to not read any of it before watching the movie so your hopes wouldn’t be up.
Hrm… Maybe I’m getting to existential here.
I enjoyed myself while watching this “movie” in the theaters. I would happily watch it again.
Does that make more sense?
One thing I do to avoid disappointment is never see films during opening week (it’s also easier on the wallet.) Since I’m kind of a loner who knows how to dodge spoilers online I can get a lot out of a movie I watch half a year later. Case in point: Cloverfield.
I had no prior knowledge of it and ended up seeing it as a lampooned Rifftrax product! I managed to get the omigod-what-the-hell-this-is-amazing effect from a MST3K version (between the laughs!) I think that tells you something right there about how cool it was. Trust me, you didn’t over-hype. Everyone has their own takes on things and I would have done some things different, but not many. I think I would have had Hud be less of a douchebag. I can’t think of anything else off hand.
I believe there is talk of a sequel or rather second angle on the same scene and well…that could explain why there was so much dangling-on-the-proverbial-precipice…
I think that’s when we’ll find out some things like WHAT THE HELL *IS* THAT THING?! and WHAT HAPPENED TO NEW YORK THAT WAS SO CATASTROPHIC that Central Park had to be renamed with a number and WHAT THE HELL IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF the NAME ‘CLOVERFIELD’ anyway? My guess is that it’s sheer irony, since it sounds about as pastoral and bucolic as the film AIN’T. (The creator pointed out it’s the name of a familiar freeway exit near his home…but I doubt that has much significance beyond random source of the syllables.
Of course if this monster is a BABY (as has been posited by same creator, who is already building the mythos for the second film) the MAMA is…what, five times the size of THAT one? I don’t think there is a ‘mama’. The reason I say this is that monster is so obviously a mutation and as I watched the thing again sans the MSTing element of the Rifftrax stuff I took notes with my right hand and used the left hand to hit the spacebar to pause the screen so I could count the animal parts it obviously had been laboratory assembled with.
“MENAGERIE DU CLOVER”
01. FRUIT BAT – head and ears.
02. RODENT (perhaps a rat or gopher) – top jaw.
03. HORSE (or other equine) – lower forelegs
04. HUMAN – upper forelegs. (Note the disquietingly weird effect of upper leg with obvious human knees attached to go BACKWARDS and become its elbows!)
05. CAT – back legs. This is where the ‘lion’ speculation must have arisen…though I think the motion of the rear legs and body is “pure house cat”. (Watch the scene where Clover is thrashing about right before the kids board the copter.)
06. DOG – lower jaws teeth. (Perhaps teeth are irrelevant as ‘weapons of passerby destruction’ in such a leviathan creature. But the canines are definitely ‘canine’!)
07. LIZARD (probably iguana) – spine. This is subtle but it’s there, watch carefully and you see the little spines that an iguana’s back has, right before the tail starts.
08. AMPHIBIAN – tail and fingers. The tail is a pollywog tail. And the Gollum fingers could have been found on a frog or certain sorts of salamander or newt.
09. APE – upper shoulders of the REALLY long arms.
10. ARTHROPODS – symbiotes/parasites/”lice”…though after looking at those bastards from all angles it’s still not quite clear whether the little bastards’ gene-matrices are drawn from some sort of arachnid or a from a lobster, but it’s one of those, because the weird eyes of a spider or crustacean do show up if you are diligent while pausing the video in the subway tunnel scene.
PS: Before anyone goes and says it:
“YES, I DO have Too Much Time On My Hands!”
But I enjoy whiling it and spending it–and yes, even wasting it.
That said, Cloverfield got my ambitions fired up in the area of getting better at 3D art and learning to animate CGI images of living things, specifically, living things that I am the inventor-goddess designer of! All things said, when a movie ends and I am inspired to create something myself…that’s a litmus test of “EPIC WIN” for me.
Wow, you are a hell of a creative writer. Very observant of you to put together (or take apart) all those different animal parts.
I wonder if there’s any news about a sequel? I’m sure it will be just as under-wraps as the first was. I’m glad you liked the film as I’ve talked to more and more people who did not, or thought it was just OK. To me, this is one of those films that you either love or hate. If you like it even a little bit, how can you not love it? It completely stays true to what it aims to be, and that is my reason for asking that question.