Film (2008). Paramount Pictures presents a Bad Robot production. Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Drew Goddard. Cast includes Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T J Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel and Odette Yustman. 85 minutes. Colour.
Found Footage reveals an enormous Monster terrorizing New York.
Three parts Gojira (1954; vt Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1956) to one part The Blair Witch Project (1999), Cloverfield reframes some of the more familiar tropes of the Monster Movie by having a group of young New Yorkers film the mounting devastation in tandem with the depiction of their romantic and domestic concerns. The end product is akin to the cast of tv sitcom Friends (1994-2004) being attacked by one of the creatures from Hellboy (2004).
The film is notable for its effect on the career of screenwriter Drew Goddard, who began writing episodes of supernatural tv series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and sf soap Lost (2004-2010), before going on to co-write and direct The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and to receive an Academy Award nomination for his screen adaptation of Andy Weir's novel The Martian (2015), and that of producer J J Abrams, who by transforming a $25m budget into $170m at the box office signalled his reliability to Hollywood financiers. "We saw all these Godzilla toys, and I thought, we need our own American monster, and not like King Kong," said Abrams of the visit he and his son made to Japan to promote Mission Impossible III (2006), clearly identifying the creative impetus behind Cloverfield with the commercial opportunity it represented. Films require careful application of investment to detail in order to succeed, and it is interesting to note how judiciously Cloverfield relays what Goddard and Abrams learnt from Television to Cinema: painstaking-but-modest mise en scène, a good-looking but little-known ensemble cast and an attempt to engage the sympathies of the viewer by merging the Inner Space of its protagonists with the destruction of large parts of the City in which they live.
Footage of the Supernatural Creature and its young is recorded over that of a clandestine date at Coney Island between Rob Hawkins (Stahl-David) and Beth McIntyre (Yustman), the record of the latter relationship being proffered throughout the action as both the McGuffin that drives Rob and his friends across Manhattan to search for the missing Beth and as the "perfect day" denouement that is most meaningful to the two lovers in light of their imminent loss of life. This is mediated by a great deal of to-camera mugging and exposition by Hawkins's best friend Hudson Platt (Miller) – an effect Goddard repeated at length in The Martian, and one which serves rather to remind the audience that they are watching a constructed narrative – and some dramatic back-and-forth between the ensemble cast similar to that employed by Goddard in The Cabin in the Woods. Perhaps more remarkable is the importance of pictorial detail to the relationship of Cloverfield to the SF Megatext: a scene featuring the severed head of the Statue of Liberty was inspired by the promotional poster for Escape from New York (1981); Manhattan skyscrapers leaning into one another echoes both twentieth-century Holocaust and the growing hysteria of the Media Landscape since 2001; and, as the previously-filmed footage of the date between Rob and Beth again reasserts itself at the very end of the film, an object is seen falling from the sky into the Atlantic behind the two lovers, announcing Cloverfield as Genre SF.
Cloverfield was followed by 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), a film developed from a script called The Cellar and adapted to be the second film in the Cloverfield franchise under the auspices of J J Abrams. A third film, God Particle, is slated for release in 2018, and will feature astronauts aboard a Space Station who lose their connection to the Earth. [MD]
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