Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Does 'Cloverfield' Lower Standards or Raise Them?



Like many of the movie going public, I went to see the J.J. Abrams backed Cloverfield, which follows a small group of people via camcorder as they endure an attack on New York City by a Godzilla wannabe. The film cobbles together many influences, most notably The Blair Witch Project (1999) which also used a documentary POV style, but is more successful because it leaves much more to the imagination.

Cloverfield is an interesting experiment, and considering the record-setting box office, is one that paid off. My first reaction was that this looked like a no budget film made with real money (the $25 million must have gone for effects and military hardware), which taps into lapsing production expectations due to the YouTube phenomenon, as well as a tried-and-true genre element: the monster movie.

While the movie is passable, I have to wonder what kind of influence on the younger up and comers a film like this possesses. I hate the shaky-cam "style" when used for an entire film, but it seems to be all the rage these days (see The Bourne Ultimatum), but Cloverfield goes one step further by completely losing control of it's camera, not only to demonstrate an everyman effect, but to obscure the monster(s) at critical times. I'm fine with that, but also have to wonder if younger kids will ignore classic technique for the quick and dirty. It's fine when it has a purpose, but seems to be par for the course for lazy filmmakers who can even bring themselves to use a tripod. As as result, what happens to things like lighting, audio, and acting?

To it's credit, Cloverfield does cheat quite a bit. It's pretty obvious that we're not looking through a real consumer camcorder. The images are too sharp and the sound too good (and in Dolby 5.1 no less!) for it to be the real thing. So before you grab your Flip camera and set out to make a feature, remember that while you can get away with a lot, there is no cheap alternate for character and story, something even Cloverfield only gets half right.

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