By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders.
I'm very happy to bring you this review as a special request. I was not able to screen Cloverfield in advance of its release date, so I just let it go and enjoyed it on opening weekend with the rest of you. But our readers have requested our evaluation of the film so I am happy to oblige.
The best part of seeing the film with a regular audience was seeing how it fooled them right away. When it opened on color bars, there were audible groans from people who thought it was actual technical difficulties in the theater (even though on screen text said "Cloverfield.")
I was actually skeptical about the concept. I have a real problem with filmmakers who pass of shaky handheld camerawork as artistic. This is how real art is done. Showing extraordinary events with crappy amateurish camerawork is art. Using amateurish handheld camerawork to show nothing is crap.
If Cloverfield had been a straightforward three camera setup, it would have been just another monster movie. The CGI monster would have seemed lame, or at best comparable to all the other CGI monsters. This way, you buy into the world because it is the same crappy amateurish handheld camerawork you recognize from your family's home movies. It's the context.
My friend Todd from IGN.com pointed out his biggest problem with this concept before screening the film. His point was: "Why wouldn't you just drop the camera and run?" The film answers his point, which I cannot take credit for but to which I will observe the resolution. The film explains that they've given the camera to a total F'ing moron, so of course he thinks it's important to keep it running. By the time things get desperate, you believe that the characters would continue to document the events.
Cloverfield is an awesome, thrilling adventure. The disaster/action sequences are cleverly conceived, from the sheer futility of our defense from the monster to the collapsing building rescue. Those scenes would have still been cool in traditional three camera setup, but stringing it all together consistently with the video camera aesthetic made it more awesome, even when you totally know that night vision is going to reveal something.
The movie is obviously smarter than I am, because I didn't catch the background easter eggs, and I'm paid to notice those things. I was just impressed that the filmmakers used a low rent high concept idea to make an aesthetically pleasing thrill ride. The only thing that might have been unrealistic is that every single person at Rob's party was gorgeous. These people don't have any ugly friends? And the military doesn't employ any ugly grunts? Come on.