Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Cloverfield": random thoughts

I finally watched the film "Cloverfield" the other day, so here are some accumulated musings about it.
  • The film "Cloverfield" is about a giant-sized monster that attacks Manhattan island. Perhaps the single most pathetic aspect of the film is that the producers consider the monster to be a newborn baby of its species rampaging across the city in a desperate bid to call out to its mother (i.e. sequel bait). This seems to reflect a particularly American version of the Japanese monster film; recall that the American-produced "Godzilla" had the Godzilla monster laying eggs in the Manhattan subway tunnels. Contrast this with the Japanese version, which eventually reached the point where a human speaker of "monster-sprach" could talk to Godzilla and try to convince him to help humanity instead of destroying it.

  • Another rather pathetic aspect of the film is that the United States seems to have lost its ability to innovate solutions to these types of monster problems. Back in the 1950s, when Americans were confronted with a monster attack they would scientifically aproach the problem of finding an effective counter-measure. Americans would first try shooting it, and if that didn't work, then they would try freezing it, lighting it on fire, electrocuting it, hacking its computers, or using sonic attacks. When the monster of "Cloverfield" turns out to be immune to automatic weapons fire, artillery fire, and arial bombardment, the United States decides to escalate to "Extra bomb-the-hell-out-of-it super arial bombardment". Good luck with that.

  • The next thing that one notices about "Cloverfield" is that the main monster drops off little parasites that look like they were born on planet Klendathu. The parasites also happen to have a contagious bite that can infect a human with what appears to be a form of super-fast acting, extra-strength ebola virus that causes a massive abdominal rupture in a matter of hours. In real life, this is practically impossible. Life forms as closely related to humans as pigs and chickens are barely able to communicate infectious diseases to humans; giant wacko monsters that have been sleeping under the Atlantic Ocean for millions of years are just not going to be able to pull it off.

    Of course, we don't actually see the massive abdominal rupture on screen. Manhattan island might be expendable, but that PG-13 rating certainly wasn't.

  • The main characters of "Cloverfield" for the most part live like models out of a magazine. In other words, they so banal as to be almost unworthy of mention. The only exceptions are Marlena (i.e. Ebola Girl, see above) and Hud, who seems to be perpetually chased by the monster to the extent that one suspects that the monster has invaded Manhattan for the sole purpose of hunting him down.

  • The banality of the main characters also means that the movie plays like a two-hour infomercial for the monster. The few remaining humans serve as canon fodder for defining the monster's abilities for comparison with other monsters.

    In order to make their 84-minute monster showcase a bit like a real film, the producers include a series of "Tarantino Moments": a moment in which in which the slow motion threat of physical death confonting a character makes even the most ludicrous dialogue seem to have a psychological weight entirely out of proportion to it's literal meaning. All such Tarantino Moments in "Cloverfield" fail rather spectacularly for the simple reason that "Cloverfield" is absolutely incapable of creating the suspense required to make such a moment work. The major events of "Cloverfield" are as utterly non-suspenseful as could possibly be imagined (yes, you can even predict the exact moment when the first random bad-thing happens). So whenever we reach a brief lull in the action that would be a perfect time for a Tarantino Moment, the effect is spoiled by the certainty that absolutely nothing unfortunate will happen to the characters in the meantime.


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