Monday, March 21, 2016

Looking at Movies (Classic Film) - Cloverfield (2008)

Regardless what you think of J.J Abrams as a director, you have to admire the guy's abilities in marketing. I remember seeing the previews for Cloverfield at the drive-in the summer before it came out. It was obvious to me that it was a monster movie, and I knew I had to see it. This was one of those rare movies that I absolutely had to see, even though it was released in January and I had to go to hardtop to see it.

This is the movie that took handheld camera frustration to a whole new level. After being out for a couple of weeks, theaters were forced to put up warnings about the shaky camera work in the movie. People complained about Cloverfield in much the same way they complained about The Blair Witch Project. But just like with The Blair Witch Project, the complaining audiences could not stay away and the movie wound up being a financial success. To this day, the critical reception of the movie is still divided between people who loved it, and people who hated it. There is no in-between.

At first, I thought I hated this movie. As with all American made kaiju movies, the monster is not the main focus of the movie. Instead, we are forced to follow around a whiny bunch of mid-20s city dwellers who offered no compelling stories and added nothing of interest. But tucked away in that boring dialogue were some of the most intense monster scenes I had ever experienced. These characters truly came face to face with the monster on more than one occasion, and that helped to make each monster scene that much more fun.

Would I have liked to have seen more of the monster? Absolutely, yes. But you get your money's worth with the monster scenes we do get, and a few of them are actually terrifying. One even made me jump from my chair it was so shocking but, at the same time, it was extremely cool as well. The other element I give Abrams credit for is that the information about the monster is not revealed by the main human characters, as usually happens in any monster movie. Instead, we have to watch very closely to learn about the monster and listen to background conversations as well.

To me, this was the first American monster movie that was done well enough to be called a classic. I usually do not put the original King Kong in that list of American monster movies because Kong is considered THE American monster movie, and I agree with that. The list I am talking about is every other monster movie besides the original Kong, and Cloverfield takes second on that list only to 2014's Godzilla.

I did not like the shaky camera work, but I understand why it was done that way. This movie would not have been nearly as exciting if we didn't feel like we were really along for the ride. I did not like the fact that we only see the monster for a total of 10 minutes throughout the movie, but Abrams made every second with the monster count. It is the subtle elements of this movie that make it so good, and Abrams really did nail that aspect of this film.

A note about 10 Cloverfield Lane (which I have not seen yet):

I am starting to think that J.J. Abrams was not kidding when he said he wanted to create his own Godzilla-like monster franchise with the Cloverfield idea based on the end of Cloverfield and the premise of 10 Cloverfield Lane. My understanding is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is an alien-based story that Abrams swears is not a direct sequel to Cloverfield. But when you watch the end of Cloverfield, something definitely crashes into the ocean in the background of the shot. Abrams attempted to brush it off as having nothing to do with the film, but it did.

The original Cloverfield monster was never killed. Now we have something crashing into the ocean and a story about aliens. I am curious to see how Abrams ties all of these together, because I believe he will. I just hope he doesn't go seven years between every movie on his way to whatever he is doing. Remember Abrams' intentions of a Godzilla-like franchise and this weak, but possible, tie that binds this movie to the new one. I am interested to see what Abrams does with all of this.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

George N Root III is a drive-in addict who loves big monster movies. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3 or send him a message at