While movies that come out at this time usually leave me in a state of figurative fatigue, "Cloverfield" left me with full-on nausea. With every square inch of the movie captured on one guy's mercilessly shaky, digital video camera, I insist right now that if you go see this film, down some Dramamine first.
But I'm assuming this was all part of the grand scheme of the filmmakers (who include producer/"Lost" mastermind J.J. Abrams and director/longtime collaborator Matt Reeves) to make this moviegoing experience more intense for viewers. For months now, most of us have been intrigued by what exactly this movie is all about since the trailer (which originally didn't give us the movie's name) began playing before "Transformers" screenings.
As the film finally hits theaters, we now know what it's about: a whole lotta motion sickness.
"Cloverfield" is the government's designation for the gigantic monster who comes to Earth and wreaks havoc on Manhattan, unfortunately wrecking the going-away party of the Japan-bound Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Instead of trying to find some way to get off the island, Rob and several of his friends venture back to save Beth (Odette Yustman), a longtime friend with whom he recently began a secret romance. (So now you have to figure out what's gonna make you vomit first: the filming or the love-conquers-all storyline.)
Of course, all of this is recorded for posterity by another pal on Rob's Handicam, which was supposed to film friends and partygoers wishing him safe journey on his trip.
On paper, "Cloverfield" sounds like a wild, radical idea: a monster movie posing as unearthed camcorder footage. But once you watch it, you find the camera itself to be something of a distraction. It gives a narrow focus on all the CGI'd action. Nearly everything is given to you in clumps. Every time the dude behind the lens screams, "Didja see that?" there's a good chance you didn't. And wouldn't worrying about your safety and well-being be more of a priority than filming every last minute of a catastrophe? (Since I haven't held a video camera in years, I wouldn't know if those things are light enough to operate while you're running for your life.)
With its virtually unknown cast, you-are-there cinematography and even its enigmatic, viral marketing campaign, you can't help but compare "Cloverfield" to "The Blair Witch Project." (That was a movie title I certainly heard mumbled after the screening, along with "Snakes on a Plane.") But, for the most part, "Cloverfield" seems more like a mumblecore version of last year's more superior, South Korean, creature-on-the-loose flick "The Host," with its 20-something characters trying to hold on to some connection with each other while they dodge getting pulverized by a mammoth beast. (A metaphor on fear of commitment, perhaps?) It's ironic, considering we barely feel a connection with the hardly conceived characters themselves while watching this.
Reeves directs everything with such a disorienting, harried hustle-bustle, we don't have time to care whenever someone meets their unfortunate demise.
All I gotta say is, after viewing "Cloverfield," I don't want to hear anyone complain about the herky-jerky camera work in "The Bourne Ultimatum" ever again.