Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Boasting a trailer featuring the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling around the streets, 'Cloverfield' has generated a lot of hype. With echoes of 9/11 in its tale of a largely unseen menace devastating New York, it seems to promise a challenging window on contemporary urban terror. In the end it's just Godzilla with a camcorder.
To be fair that in itself might not be such a bad thing. Traditionally monster movies concentrate on the scientists trying to tackle the menace. The average Joe, the one actually suffering from the monster's carnage, rarely gets a look in (a notable exception is the original Japanese, 'Godzilla', which features a harrowing scene in a hospital where victims are treated for radiation burns). 'Cloverfield' spots this gap in the market, and resolutely centers on bemused New Yorkers rather than figures of authority. Indeed the military, the only official representatives we see, are largely anonymous.
The use of the camcorder too seems a canny move. With its grainy quality and jerky hand movements, it not only lends an on-the-streets verite to the movie, it allows for more convincing special effects. The unnatural sheen that often belies CGI is absent here.
A film such as this flies or falls on the strength of its characters and the empathy they build up in the audience. Sadly the idiotic group of pretty young rich kids 'Cloverfield' saddles us with are infinitely more annoying than endearing. These pretty young things have daddies with Central Park penthouse apartments, or vice-presidential jobs waiting for them in Japan. They are decidedly not your average Joes. Their intelligence is also not average, considerably less than average in fact. You can forget about my empathy!
Using a party scene to set up the lead characters, the first ten minutes of the film prompted me to look at my watch more than once. It's painful. Later lead character, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), tries desperately to rescue true love, Beth, but his obsessive determination to lead his friends into the heart of the danger smacks more of madness than amour. But then character inanity is nothing if not ubiquitous. Best friend, Hud, for instance, for most of the film our cameraman, stretches audience patience far, far beyond any acceptable limit. Thankfully camcorders do not always need an operator.
You might think that watching these screaming ninnies successively killed off might afford us some satisfaction. Unfortunately, as with cousin camcorder epic, 'The Blair Witch Project', unless we care about about the protagonists, it's hard to get worked up about their fate. When the movie rest on their shoulders, this is fatal.
It's very faint praise to say that 'Cloverfield' is slightly better than Roland Emmerich's dire 'Godzilla' remake. That hardly justifies it. They both deserve to sink into the depths from which their respective monsters rise. Save yourself. Avoid.

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