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    Cloverfield Explained

    In the real world, a defunct orbiting satellite has lost power and propulsion and could hit the Earth in late February or March. This was in the headlines very recently. In one of the scenes in Cloverfield, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) are videotaping themselves on a date in Coney Island on the Wonder Wheel. If you are one of those moviegoers with an eagle eye for detail, you can see that an object falls out of the sky into the ocean in the background. The movie clues viewers early on with a newscast of a Japanese oil tanker sinking somewhere in the Pacific. Apparently, the company that owns that oil tanker had also lost a satellite in the ocean and had sent out a rescue team that never returned.

    Things start happening around the world shortly after that. An oil platform is totally destroyed by some unexplained force, and these incidents start coming closer and closer to the east coast.

    On a New York City night, a crowd of friends and acquaintances of Robs,’ throws a surprise going-away party for him before he leaves for a job in Japan. The movie opens up early with some queasy camerawork, filmed by a man who might be the worst cameraman of the century. Some may not like this at all – I found it to be disorienting at first and was worried that it may take away from the movie. Perhaps it is a reflection of our Youtube generation. But whatever message the director J.J. Abrams (who also did “Lost”) was trying to get across, his style certainly added a slice of believability to the film.

    So, the surprise party goes on, and Hud (T.J. Miller) is given the camera by Rob’s brother, Jason (Mike Vogel). Hud is told that he should document Rob’s last night in the U.S., and he uses the camcorder throughout the party to get cute girls to say a goodbye message to Rob. There is a building of a romantic subplot here.

    Rob is jealous of Beth because he found out that she is with another date at his party. Rob isn’t happy; his friends drag him outside to get fresh air on the fire escape and tell him to “get her back.” Before the movie turns into a second-rate NBC soap opera with motion-sickness-inducing camerawork, there is a huge explosion in the distance and an earthquake tremor that causes the entire city to briefly lose power.

    This is where Cloverfield succeeds in using an age-old monster movie formula: the less the viewer sees, the more the viewer soils their pants. While we do not see much of this “thing” in the first third of the movie, what we do see is the horror and the seeming ease with which it can cause unimaginable destruction. The earth keeps shaking and New York City skyscrapers come tumbling down in smoke and dust reminiscent of 9/11. Whether or not this was an intentional effort to capitalize the horrible memories of that day by the director isn’t clear, but it certainly grips the uttermost attention of an audience with 9/11 on the back of their minds.

    I found the pacing of Cloverfield to be lightning quick, in a good way. I honestly could not predict what slip or explosion or bite was around the corner or who the next unlucky victim would be. Cloverfield isn’t sympathic at all; it taunts and growls at you at times, leaving you no choice but to ride its emotional rollercoaster.

    At the first moment you get attached to a character or find them “cute,” that character may die in the most violent and random fashion. When you are watching Rob and his friends walk the 6th train tunnels in the total blackness with only the light of their camcorder, you could not help to feel a bit tense, even if you are a seasoned horror veteran.

    Cloverfield, though, doesn’t fit any common notions of “scary.” It is not the American “Waaaa!” scare or even the Japanese “psychological” scare that your friends talk about. Rather, the events in the movie play out so quickly, randomly and overwhelmingly that you forget that Hud is a bad cameraman and just hope you get out of there with him.

    There are some problems I have with Cloverfield, though. I know for the director’s sake that it is his job to bring the viewer a visual bang and make it as chaotic on screen as he can, but I question the military’s decision to send wave after wave of unorganized US infantry and armor to be pulverized by Mr. Monster like it’s the creature’s Saturday morning breakfast tea. There are even online debates on movie forums, where movie buffs have predicted that hitting the creature night and day from the air with a squadron of C-130 aircraft may have saved many US soldiers from unnecessary slaughter. That’s not for me to decide, though, because the fireworks that occur in this movie when the army hits the creature are surreal and extremely chaotic. We do not need a Death Star construction contractor debate straight out of Clerks here, please.

    In the end, Cloverfield is one of those movies you have either a hate or love relationship with. Some AMC theaters have even posted fliers on the theater entrance on opening week warning moviegoers of induced motion sickness. The friend that I saw the movie with said he felt a bit nauseous, and by the last third of the movie I couldn’t tell if he was watching it or if he was turning away and covering his head. I certainly enjoyed it, and it was all over too soon at 84 minutes (for me).

    The movie ends abruptly and it is not a particularly satisfying ending that sums things up. I do not want a sequel though. Name the last great sequel. I like to leave it the way it is, unresolved and always wondering what could have happened, like that great lover you try but could never tame.

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