Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Is the month over yet? It looks like we’re getting there. For some reason I feel like once January ends it’ll be like I’m exiting a giant tunnel. I just hope there’s not another big tunnel at the start of February. Anyway, I took in my second viewing of CLOVERFIELD this past weekend. Ultimately, I like the film quite a bit yet I found myself vacillating this time around between thinking it was more and less effective. More, because I found it constantly exciting in how it used this approach to what would normally be a standard narrative. Less, because some of the found footage aspect of it came off as a little less believable this time around. But now, several days later that doesn’t really concern me quite so much. The most intense moments of its brief running time stick with me. I’ll state flat out that I’m not very interested in any of the viral aspects of the story. I don’t need to see the myspace pages of the characters, I don’t need websites focusing on the history of the monster and for that matter, I don’t need any info on the history of the monster. I just don’t care. What I find interesting is what we’re allowed to see through these characters eyes contrasted with what is never learned. There’s no point to it otherwise. I’m sure that there is a logic to it all, but part of the purpose of the you-are-there approach seems to be that we’re never given the long, boring “The monster came from…” speech. In this day and age, metaphors can come from anywhere. Whatever id it comes from in the post-9/11 world that you think it does is probably correct.
There is the issue of what feels like a certain house style that we expect from the J.J. Abrams stable, both in how good looking the various actors are and a certain amount of snark that pokes through in the dialogue. This is me connecting CLOVERFIELD to FELICITY more than anything—LOST, which I think is a fantastic show, is outside the scope of this issue. I can understand the argument that it would be nice to see the version of CLOVERFIELD that starred normal people instead of actors who stereotypically look like they belong in a J.J. Abrams production (in this case, also written by Drew Goddard and directed by Matt Reeves). Of course, that’s what he does and it almost ignores how the opening party feels like a perfect opening to a romantic comedy from the creator of FELICITY. That a monster is interrupting that movie makes it ever better. The second viewing did reveal a certain lack of gravitas to the whole thing, but these seem like characters who wouldn’t be the types to acknowledge gravitas anyway.
It’s considered that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is where the whole found footage subgenre originates, but I could believe these guys never even saw that film—BLAIR WITCH, of course, is another matter, but the movie that really came to mind during that second viewing (and I know I’m not the first person to mention it) is MIRACLE MILE, the rather amazing Steve De Jarnatt film from 1989 which has Anthony Edwards intercepting a phone call which may be telling him that the bombs are in the air and he has less than an hour before it’s all over. Set in the titular area of L.A. the lead is a young man who has just met the girl of his dreams (Mare Winningham) and is desperately trying to find her so they can get out of town together. There’s a darkly comic b-movie tinge to the film which is similar to AFTER HOURS, so its stylistic approach is very different from CLOVERFIELD, but it has a definite soul which makes it all the more haunting in the end. The film offers a feeling of “We had a moment, THIS MOMENT and now it’s all ending,” something maybe we can all relate to and it’s a mood that CLOVERFIELD, much as I like it, only really has in spurts. The haunted glances that Lizzy Caplan’s Marlena gives the camera at several points are almost enough to make up for this, doing a better job of revealing someone who is traumatized that any crying and screaming that comes from the other actors. She’s the most interesting presence at the party in the early going and later on those eyes of hers reveal more soul than anyone else here. (Am I going too far in revealing my own crush on Lizzy Caplan?)
More than anything, I was struck by how CLOVERFIELD seemed to use its own particular approach to give us an alternate take on what is the current standard of the disaster-movie plotline—in the early going, I was comparing it in my mind to the crummy POSEIDON remake (which also featured Chris Vogel in its cast) and not only how much better this film was at laying out its exposition but how much it revealed the formulaic dead end reached by most other examples these days. And it really feels to me like those involved love the approach of putting what is ultimately an old-fashioned monster into this format. The end credits offers the only music we get during the entire film, a phenomenal piece of music by Abrams regular Michael Giacchino entitled “Roar! (Overture from CLOVERFIELD)”. Sounding like the score to the imaginary ‘normal’ version of the movie, it feels like a full encapsulation of the beauty and majesty of the type of film they’re trying to make. There’s really no reason for it to be there except, damnit, those involved just felt like doing it. I don’t just want this on CD—I want to hear this thing performed in concert, it’s that good.
The various elements that make up the breakneck pace in CLOVERFIELD feel like something bracingly new, even if some of its individual parts have been seen before. The slight feeling of gimmickry could diminish repeated viewings and I do wonder how the characters made it all the way up to midtown in that subway tunnel but for now, much of its effectiveness remains. It’s a bracing reminder to us in this day and age that it could always end just like that. And sometimes, there’ll be a monster roaring directly at us while it happens.