Review: ‘Cloverfield’

Ever been to Universal Studios to “ride the movies?” For the same experience at your local theater, enjoy Cloverfield.

It’s Rob Hawkins’ (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, and everyone’s invited! Mug for the camera, because Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) is walking around the party filming “going away thoughts” for Rob, and be sure to say hi to Lily (Jessica Lucas) for setting all this up free booze before you sneak off. Did you hear that Rob’s having problems with Beth (Odette Yustman), that girl he dated about a month ago? Anyway, enjoy the party and just ignore the explosions, mandatory evacuation order, and the masses of people screaming while running for their lives outside, it’s just the Cloverfield monster coming to kill us all… woo hoo!

If you’re looking for the secret to Cloverfield, here it is: it’s the Universal Studios/Disneyworld “ride the movies” mentality applied to the big screen. If you’re not familiar with this technique or haven’t been to one of these theme parks, there’s a formula to it. First, the “ride” has a theme built around your favorite movie or character, but since you have to stand in line to get to it, the line itself begins the “immersion,” because you’re walking into the subterranean crypt for The Mummy or into the haunted hotel for “The Twilight Zone.” Cloverfield gave you this experience with over six months of teasers set in the real world, both online and off. Once you finally make it to the ride, you’re bombarded with a combination of jerky movements designed to make you feel like what the video screens are showing you is actually happening to you through point-of-view shots. The big difference is this: while you may not experience physically being thrown around, Cloverfield is a lot longer than the 3 minutes you get from those rides, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth by comparison.

It’s the point-of-view video photography gimmick that’s real trick here. Cloverfield borrows the best shots from these immersive POV theme park rides and builds them into a film that always feels like you’re right there. It doesn’t matter if you believe it could happen or not, but you’re experiencing it right along with the characters in the film. Maybe that’s why there isn’t too much back story for them… after all, you just met and none of them may make it through this anyway. Sure, there’s the initial sensation of Blair Witch Project induced motion sickness, but the camera work is consistent enough to let you roll with it once you get used to it.

So, let’s answer the two big questions that everyone still making up their mind whether or not to see it has been asking. First, does the movie lives up to the hype? If you’re looking for a crowded popcorn film experience at the movies without any kind of intellectual or emotional investment, it’s a wonderful ride. If you were looking for anything deeper or are prone to motion sickness just riding in a car, this isn’t the movie for you. Second, does the monster look cool? I think it looks like Jabba the Hut’s “Rancor” beast from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi merged with the Grendel from the recent Beowulf film, but not bad as far as giant creatures and MUCH better than the American attempt at Godzilla a few years back. One thing is certain, however: you can expect a deluge of these POV thrillers to come out of the woodwork over the next year or two before this idea will be cloned to death.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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