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.