There’s little that I like more as a guilty pleasure than an invasion movie. For all its willful ridiculousness, Independence Day remains a film that I can watch on repeat and never tire of (my recent purchase of the Blu-ray means I’ve now seen it in the cinema – my first 12 rating! – and bought it three times on various formats), and I must admit to deriving a little bit of enjoyment out of the Hollywood interpretation of Godzilla. Stick on something from the 50’s with a bloke in an unconvincing rubber suit and I’m in heaven.
Alas, I never got around to seeing Cloverfield in the cinema, even as involved as I was with picking apart the untitled trailer – I subscribed to the hypothesis that it was a Cthulhu movie at first, which now is only topped by the rumour that it was Voltron (someone heard “it’s alive” from the trailer as “it’s a lion”, you see) in being wide of the mark – and viral campaign. Regardless, I’ve seen it now and want to weigh in with my impressions.
For all its flaws, which I’ll get onto in a bit, I thought it was one of the best, most original monster movies I’ve ever seen. Blair Witch did the shaky camera and discovered footage thing first – not to mention the teasing, Internet-led marketing – but that never struck a chord with me. Jaws taught us that the moments when you see the creature are most effective when they’re fleeting and don’t happen until the end, and Blair Witch’s conceit of showing nothing at all didn’t work for me. I’m not saying it was wrong, because it was their stylistic choice; just that I like to know what my on-screen companions are so shit-scared about. Shallow? Maybe, but it would piss me off if we never saw a monster here as well.
OK, so maybe Cloverfield wasn’t that original. We’ve established that it’s the result of a fling between Jaws and Godzilla and a tryst between their offspring and The Blair Witch Project. It has the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster married to the home-made aesthetic that we’ll be seeing a lot of in these years following the emergence of YouTube as a cultural force (see also: Diary of the Dead).
Special mention has to go to the visual effects in this film, though. How convincing everything looks is impressive enough – at no moment was I thinking about it as CGI – but to do it without a steadicam, often with the camera waving wildly? Some poor CG artists must have a few grey hairs after this one. Hopefully their sacrifices won’t be forgotten when awards season rolls around.
Credit should also be given to the film for not overstaying its welcome, being as it is a slender 85 minutes, but then again it does take rather a long time to get going. The party scenes weren’t half bad (I didn’t find the characters as annoying as some people have said), but the monster doesn’t even turn up until a good 25 minutes in, nearly a third of the film. Once we’re past that, though, it never lets up. Some cinemas had warnings for people who suffer from motion sickness that compared the effect to a rollercoaster, which is actually very apt.
The motion didn’t bother me, but what did was the same problem I have when watching someone else play an FPS: they never look where I want them to look. There’s one moment in particular when the monster is just there, and rather than filming it we get fleeting glimpses and a lingering shot of the soldiers shooting at it. Realistic? Yeah, I’d hide behind a car, too, but it’s a movie about a bloody great monster woken up by a falling satellite. Complaining about a bit of Hollywood drama in this is like complaining that an alien language in Star Wars has no appreciable sentence structure.
Although, to fall into my own trap, what kind of camera can fit 85 minutes of HD video onto an SD card? It’s not like they’re using a Mac to interface with an alien computer, but it seemed weird to me. Didn’t stop Cloverfield from being a must-see, but I’m just saying…