"Cloverfield" is a classic monster movie, paying homage to the original "Godzilla" movies (not the unspeakable remake with Matthew Broderick and Godzilla babies) from post WW II era when Japan was afraid of foreign invaders, much as America is now afraid of foreign invaders. Because the movie takes place on the island of Manhattan (does Abrams have a thing for islands?), the images it evokes of 9/11 destruction are no mere coincidence. There are some very specific scenes that are lifted almost directly from that day's footage.
This is so close to a masterpiece for this genre. The only thing that prevents it from rising to instant classic status is the ending. For the entire movie, we are seeing all events unfold through the lens of a handheld camera which is recording the last night of Hud the cameraman's best friend, Rob, before Rob leaves for Japan (nice touch). The effect of this cannot be overstated: it puts us smack in the center of the action. We are IN the monster movie.
I can just imagine the pitch to the studio (and why was this at Paramount and not Universal which has traditionally been the studio for monster movies?): "Ever watch a Godzilla movie and wonder what it would be like to be one of those fleeing Japanese people?"
And that's just brilliant. The camera's framing is often a hair off from where you want it to be, so you never quite see the monster in its entirety. You're given a bit here and a bit there and your brain puts it all together. It also makes you more involved in the story; rather than being given all of the details, you become one of the group with Hud and Rob, searching them out on your own. Great idea, truly great. I have much admiration for the director Matt Reeves, the writer Drew Goddard, and Abrams.
The cast is terrific: a bunch of unknown actors who feel real and whose anonymity, to paraphrase the review in yesterday's LA Times, means you don't know who's going to get picked off first. No stars means no pecking order. Overall, I'd give it an 8 - I take off a point and a half for the ending and another half-point for the marketing campaign which, although intriguing, promised too much. Nothing could live up to that mystery.
Bonus: a trailer for the next "Star Trek" movie being produced and directed by Abrams. It looks awesome! But won't be in theaters until next winter. Will I lose interest by then? I better have some Lost episodes to make up for it.
Your Hollywood connection,