A mountain of well-controlled hype was the precurser to Lost mastermind JJ Abrams’ retake of the Godzilla genre. Not only was the story kept under wraps for as long as possible, but also the experience movie-goers would be treated to when they finally arrived. The knowledge that it was filmed from the point of view of eyewintesses using a camcorder led to associations with The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) and when we were told it would involve the army taking on a giant maraudering monster smashing the head off the Statue of Liberty and knocking down buildings, it was hard not to think of 9/11 connotations combining with popcorn entertainment. In essence, it was the film everyone wanted to know about. But with the dust settling on the furore, what’s left? A rather shallow 74 minutes of on-the-rails action that outstays its welcome.
Cloverfield has a novel approach to its presentation. It opens with a screen stating the film is the property of the “US Government” and was discovered following the sighting of something called Cloverfield. We are then faced with a camcorder’s recording of a New Yorker’s flat filmed by a young guy called Jason (Mike Vogel) who wanders around and wakes up his girlfriend Lily (Odette Yustman) in bed. They are helping organise a surprise party for Jason’s brother Ray (Michael Stahl-David) who is moving to Japan and entrust their friend Hud (T.J. Miller) with the filming duties at the party which he takes to heart, keeping the camera rolling even when he discovers Ray has slept with a girl called Beth (Jessica Lucas) who has a boyfriend and then subsequently when he tours the room telling everyone. As the party is developing, Beth leaves with her boyfriend and is berated by Ray as she walks out the door. Minutes later, a shudder erupts through the building like an earthquake and they descend to ground level in panic to find the Statue of Libery’s head roll down the road as an unseen monster ravages the city.
A novel idea, well executed, just lacking a little innovation to elevate it to greatness.
The enjoyment of what follows is dependent on acccepting Hud is so dedicated to documenting all the ensuing chaos that he never once stops filming. Despite the dangers of collapsing buildings, broken bridges, army weaponry being fired all around them and the confusion they face about what to do, Hud is there filming away. Yes, these are vivid and genuinely intense scenes, but much of intended realism is lost when the reality of the situation is considered. The monster itself is an effective Godzilla clone, smashing through the streets and also sprouting offspring who can infect victims with a virus with one bite. Whenever it is on screen, Cloverfield offers plenty of thrills — it is when we are left with Hud and his mates that it is reduced to laboured characterisation.
Hud’s dialouge is obnoxious, tainting much of the action while Ray’s plan to rescue Beth from a ruined skyscraper sees them set out on a foolhardy mission through streets looking like warzones. While this does serve as an ideal way to bring the best action to the screen, it often feels like they are simply links written to threat together pre-determined set pieces. They are all impressive in their own right, but just don’t quite work as a whole due to the lulls in interest. A novel idea, well executed, just lacking a little innovation to elevate it to greatness.