We Felt the Earth Move Under Their Feet: Cloverfield

Cloverfield (2008 ) follows the 2007 releases of I Am Legend (also set in New York City) and The Mist (which uses similar , if not suspiciously identical creatures), and despite some detracting CGI, it is perhaps the most effective.

The story is simple: several friends gathering one evening at a farewell party for their friend are thrust into chaos that suddenly befalls the city (not to give too much away). But, the distinctive crux of director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard’s Cloverfield is authenticity of experience and an advertising strategy built on limiting information. Months before the films opening, the trailers quickly introduced basic characters and abruptly shifted to suggestions of disaster, details of which remained scant. The flying, decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty could, given setting and recent memory, leave audiences with the impression that Cloverfield is a film about a terrorist invasion of New York City. The earliest previews didn’t reveal the films title, and some only hinted devastating action through on-screen and off-screen character reaction.

The film itself is intended to be a first-hand documentation of events shot by the victims of the tragedy who captured it on their digital video camera, triggering warnings to theater patrons that they may experience side-effects from the abundance of shaky footage. And to further create the “authentic experience,” there is no soundtrack manipulating mood (except several minutes after rolling the final credits) and there are no opening credits because, this is supposed to be found footage held by the Department of Defense. There is a time code and a confidentiality disclaimer at the start of the movie. But, perhaps the most realistic narrative elements are the absence of neat resolutions and happy endings as well as the limited explanation of the origins of the invading creatures. If the techniques and technicians were still available, this movie might have done better to abandoned the phony CGI in favor of the sadly obsolete art of miniatures, prosthetic and stop-motion models

The cast, composed of standard WB-esque images of young perfection, were once fairly unknown faces, which at least prevent ruining the attempt to create as much of an “authentic experience” as possible just as it was in movies like the Blair Witch Project (1999), although the filmmakers of Cloverfield had to rely on several other devices, since, unlike Blair Witch, there is no question about the truth of the narrative. New York City obviously wasn’t destroyed by monstrous creatures in real life. The cast were also forbidden from seeing the script until signed onto the project, with screening tests being based on readings of other scripts.

Cloverfield is, most simply, intense and potent and despite the aforementioned trend of recent films of invading creatures and scientific anomolies, it grossed over $16 million on opening day, setting a record for blockbuster earnings in January and receiving critics’ applause. With the limited marketing strategies and secretive production strategy already exhausted in for the first film, it could be suggested that a sequel will be anything less than the ignored subordinate to a much better first film, though lessons may be drawn from the analogous Blair With Project 2:Book of Shadows (2000). But, director Reeves, who spoke on the issue, suggested at least two ideas he envisioned, both dealing with intersections of characters and events and, more importantly, maintaining a sense of “authentic experience” through consistent devices like first-hand footage.


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