1/18/08

Cloverfield: It's Not About the Monster

I went into the theater this morning having heard only two small reviews. My dad said that he had read in the paper that Cloverfield got a C+ (school ratings? really?) because (probably among other things) the monster was "almost invisible." I got to the theater and the usher (with whom I work all the time and who was able to get people's reaction to the midnight showing last night since she was working then, too) said "Not Cloverfield; everyone was so disappointed!" Having not read the reviews and having only heard the reactions of other theater patrons as the movie ended, let me make this perfectly clear before you start complaining: It's not about the monster!

As you probably expected, the movie was put together as though someone took a personal hand-held camera and documented the attack on the city. If you didn't like The Blair Witch Project, then you probably won't like this cinematic style, but I love the realism it brings to the table. The DV tape itself was almost a character to itself, having been accidentally recorded over reminding everyone at key points in the storyline of what had happened a month earlier. And this storyline is what grabs you from the beginning and brings you along right up to the last minute. It's about this story. It's not about the monster.

Don't get me wrong, the monster plays an integral role, but it's a role that could easily have been filled by an earthquake, an alien attack, a volcano, a war, a science experiment gone wrong, etc. The monster is just the bait that J.J. Abrams used to lure you into what is essentially a love story. It's a story about how a great disaster can bring people together. It's about relationships, friendships, love and family. It's not about the monster.

I'm not going to tell you everything that happens in the movie because I'm a big believer in leaving the surprise until you get to the theater. I will, however, tell you that if you want to see what the monster looks like, then you get plenty of chances. If all you're worried about is what the monster looks like, then go ahead and skip the first half hour or forty-five minutes... as a matter of fact, wait until it's almost done - you get a great look at it then. If, however, you enjoy a little more substance to your monster movie, stay and watch the whole thing. Watch in the beginning when Rob starts recording "the best day ever." Keep watching when his brother starts recording over the tape to get Rob's going-away party. Watch while Rob is crushed by Beth, the girl he loves, showing up to his party with another guy. Then watch as New York falls to the monster and Rob valiantly travels to the middle of the action in order to save Beth. That's what it's all about. The monster is there and it's scary, but it's not about the monster.

The backdrop is that after Rob, Hud and Jason record this tape, and after the monster is done wrecking the city, the government comes by later and finds it in Central Park (an area now designated "Cloverfield" since the attack). What we are doing by watching this movie is peeking into a secret military documentation of what really went on that day. So, in that sense, it's about the monster. We're never told if the government is keeping it a secret or what, though there are humorous speculations by Hud. But, in reality, we know it's just a movie and movies are about stories and this story is about Rob and Beth. It's not about the monster.

I hope I was able to make this clear enough. When you go watch the movie you're in for a bumpy and shaky ride - almost as bumpy and shaky as the ride the characters are in for (which is why I love this cinematic decision). Don't let the camcorder get in your way of enjoying the story, though. Let yourself be drawn in to the people, not the monster. Because, say it with me: IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MONSTER!