They don't even know me and yet, Drew Goddard, Matt Reeves, and J.J. Abrams apparently sat down several months ago and decided to make a movie just for me. Cloverfield is what they came up with.
BEWARE!! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THIS MOVIE OR DON'T CARE.
I'm going to try to use some tricky spoiler text as to avoid causing anyone to accidentally read something they don't want to. Select the text below so that you can read it.
There are no new story ideas. That's why we get the constant barrage of rehashes and remakes. But in Cloverfield, we get a new way of telling the classic "monster attacked New York" story. Instead of following Will Smith or Harrison Ford, we're focusing in on "guy at party #1, guy at party #2, girl at party #1 and so on." No bulging muscles. No chiseled features. No one of extreme importance in the big story. The big story would follow the general in charge of the military, the scientist who comes up with the monster's achilles heel, and the guy who flies a jetpack carrying the correct payload to the exact right spot in order to kill the creature.
Maybe all of that happened at some point in the story. Maybe not. The point is, this time the story is told, we focus on the extras or background characters. Because ultimately, those people, the everyday folks running away trying not to get stepped on...that's us.
I love me a good James Bond or Indiana Jones character, but it's all fantasy. It's all escapism. It's fun to imagine, but that's not me. So centering the story around the "common man" immediately makes this a much more engrossing piece because I identify with those characters immediately.
The screenplay is brilliant. The conceit of the movie is that we are viewing a videotape, beginning to end, and on this tape is everything from normalcy at a friend's going away party to mass chaos with a monster attacking the city. This is told completely from the point of view of this one camera. The only cheat is that these events are being taped over a tape from a previous day. As a result, there are slight skips in the action where the previous events come through giving brief flashbacks and ultimately giving a fantastic ending to the piece.
There's about 20 minutes or so of exposition. And just as I'm beginning to think it's gone on too long, the action begins. The movie never lets up. Only on a couple of ocassions does it slow down enough to let the viewer breath slightly. Those moments are filled with poignancy. A great scene takes place in the subway terminal. The four main characters we're following at this point have just scene mass destruction and they've scene people they know die including on guy who was a brother to one and a boyfriend to another. Here, Rob receives a call from his mother and must tell her that her other son has died. It's done in a very subtle way as the camera doesn't capture all of the conversation or all of the grieving. Just enough to allow us to put ourself in the place of those characters and feel the grief with them before it's time to move forward again.
Our group encounters smaller creatures that have infested the city. One of the characters gets bitten and something horrible happens to her later. But we're never exactly sure what. In fact, there are many mysteries that are never explained in the movie. And the fact is that none of it matters. You are given everything you need and slightly more. Instead of pointless technobabble you might get from Jeff Goldblum or Matthew Broderick, the characters watch their friend explode and they freak out. We never know how or why because as we follow these regular people, we learn that they're not important enough to the big story to need to know why.
The ending is superb. And it's here that we find out what this movie has been all about. Rob and Beth had a fight. Beth left in a huff and Rob spends the night trying to wade through monsters, bullets and debris to save this girl. And he saves her, but in the end, it appears they both die. And in the end, that might have been okay because at least they were able to tell each other "I love you." In the face of it all, it was enough for them to just be able to not leave things on a bad note. The camera stops recording the events of the day the monster attacked and we see the final seconds recorded from a day weeks ago with Rob and Beth. Here we see that they were at one time happy.
This ending is made even better when it was pointed out to me that off in the distance of one of the final shots, an object falls from the sky into the ocean hinting that maybe we're seeing the origin of the monster right here. Even when we're happy, be on your guard because terrible times may be ahead. And when you are angry, don't sabotage your relationships because you never know how things may truly end. Valuable lessons from a monster movie. The kind of lesson that I don't think we would have gotten from the Big Story.
I said so much about story, but there's so much to say about presentation, too. This was executed perfectly. Do to the nature of what it is, I can see where some might not like it. The handheld aspect was at times difficult to deal with, but the shaky aspect kept the tension levels high by throwing the viewer off and not really allowing very good glimpses of the monsters.
The acting was great. I loved that it was cast with unknowns. There was no score which placed more pressure on the rest of the parts to fill the emotions needed. The special effects were great and seemless. The fact that this was shot on a video camera probably helped keep effects from needing to be perfect.
My opinion of this movie continued to soar all day as I thought about it. Thanks Goddard, Reeves, and Abrams for making this movie. You know what I like.
Story Score --
Presentation Score --
I'm giving it the rewatchable walrus making this the first perfect movie on Nerd Lunch. I can't wait to watch this with the commentary on and look forward to my next viewing after that.