Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 1 hr 25 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, T. J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel
Review by: ShaneBurridge
Added: 8 years ago
With the proliferation of mobile phones and pocket-sized digital cameras, it seems impossible for anything in the 21st century to go undocumented. When the Hindenburg crashed in 1937 the event was immortalized with a single iconic image of it crippled and aflame despite the high presence of newsreel cameras, but when hijacked jet airliners plowed into the World Trade Center in 2001, news agencies found that they could edit comprehensive coverage of the disaster from citizens' personal video cameras. The brilliantly realized premise of CLOVERFIELD is to use the unquestionably 'real' credentials of amateur home video to frame the perspective of an imaginary event on a scale seen only in films like GODZILLA, KING KONG, and INDEPENDENCE DAY. It's a gimmick that's been done before, most notably in 1999's THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but for reasons of budget more than aesthetics. The point of such strategy is to exploit the home-made look of amateur video to present fiction as if it were documentary. With the huge FX budget of CLOVERFIELD and the quality of the cinematography, there's no way it was ever going to succeed as realism, but as a cinematic conceit it holds up very well. In fact, the 'rehearsed spontaneity' of the camerawork is probably too authentic for many viewers (there were complaints of seasickness from some audience members after seeing the camera shaking on big cinema screens).
The opening title of the film reveals 'Cloverfield' to be the code name used for a military operation implemented during an attack on Manhattan, which is almost an in-joke, as the film itself was known only as 'Untitled J. J. Abrams Project' until a short time before its theatrical release, allowing those who were first in line to share the same sense of discovery as the protagonists in the film. Early speculation was that the film might have been a GODZILLA remake, so the tipoffs early in the story (a closeup of a Japanese flag and news that a ship is the first victim of the invader) are more likely to be misinformation jokes rather than homage. Following Joe Bob Briggs' "first rule of drive-in moviemaking" that anyone can die at any time, the team behind CLOVERFIELD pulls no punches, and any doubts about exactly what happens in the film's final moments can be addressed by referring back to the opening few seconds. By populating the cast with lesser-known actors, everyone becomes as expendable as any cross-section of the population during a random cataclysmic event. Viewers may become so absorbed with the seemingly on-the-fly style of the film that they may not even notice the total absence of a background score (a necessary condition of filming it on a camcorder - presumably if Abrams had produced STAR WARS we wouldn't have heard laser blasts hitting spaceships either). Instead, CLOVERFIELD uses a soundtrack of musique concrete, driving the story along with booming footfalls, the hysteria of crowds and the clash and clatter of the military in constant battle with the enemy. Similarly, the film/video does its job so effectively that you might not even notice the level of language being used by every character within earshot. If it had been me holding that camera on the firing line, the expletives would have been well beyond a PG rating.