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Diablo gets the first look at Cloverfield

Hand held cameras meet giant monsters in a post 9/11 Godzilla movie

Lady Liberty loses her head in the first blockbuster of 2008


Just got home from an early screening of CLOVERFIELD, the first big buzz movie of 2008. For the uniformed, the first trailer for this film was attached to last summer’s Transformers blockbuster, and created a firestorm of interest on the Internets.

In terms of over-hyped scare flick, Cloverfield is closer to The Blair Witch Project than Snakes on a Plane. Cloverfield is produced by JJ Abrams, the wunderkind behind TV’s Lost, a show I still have never seen (All I know is that they’re on an island, there are Others, and viewers are always complaining about how infrequently the new episodes are shown).

Working with director Matt Reeves, Abrams brings his sci-fi creativity to the big screen, albeit with a TV style technique. Here’s the Cloverfield set-up. A bunch of hip and beautiful twenty-something Manhattanites all show up for some guy named Rob’s surprise party. A funny, somewhat oafish friend named Hud is given a video camera to document the party.

Warning to fans of big screen movies shot in cinemascope and those who are prone to motion sickness: The entire movie is shot with a hand held camera, from Hud’s point of view. The technique is familiar to anyone who saw The Blair Witch Project back in 1999.

So, this party goes on, and a few characters are given just the tiniest bit of character development. Rob has taken some great job in Japan and everyone is there to see him off, but Rob is really in love with Beth, who shows up late for the surprise, but with her new boyfriend, a dead ringer for Chachi-era Scott Baio. Beth and Rob have an argument, Rob starts getting drunk, and just when you start to wish that a giant alien creature from the sea would just wipe all these whiny Friends clones off the planet….it does.

There’s a huge boom, and an explosion over lower Manhattan. The party spills out into the streets, which are smoking and shaking and buildings are tumbling and it’s all very reminiscent of the worst day in American history. The post-9.11 tension and actions (skyscrapers toppling, smoke billowing down the streets) is effective, if not a bit callous. When the twin towers fell in 2001, many commented that ithe carnage looked just like a Hollywood blockbuster action film. Well goody-goody, here's the first Hollywood blockbuster that looks just like the hand held footage of September 11.

The rest of the movie is essentially Godzilla bin Laden. Four of the friends try to get out of NYC, videotaping all the way, as a mysterious roaring creature tears apart the city. Abrams and Reeves use some clever multi-media techniques in showing the creature(s)…you’ll see a tail here, a head here, a live newscopter shot of a massive Tyrannosaurus Rancor raising holy hell through midtown.

At this point in my review, you know whether or not Cloverfield is your Friday night movie pick, or if you’d rather schedule that long overdue root canal this Friday. Hats off to Abrams and Reeves for putting an innovative, up-to-date spin on the monster movie—seeing the CGI-monsters in bits and pieces helps quite a bit in making the mosters seem real, and not Jar Jar Binksish. As the film’s action progresses, you get to see more and more creatures, so those who felt cheated by Blair Witch’s “it’s scarier if you never see the witch” technique get to get face to face with the beasties by film’s end. Still, the jiggling camera, and more than one “give me a break” decisions by the main characters extend suspension of disbelief to points of annoyance. The film provides a visceral thrill as the action plays out, but its effect evaporates before you get to the car in the parking lot. That’s a mild recommendation for creature feature fans, and a hint to see Sweeney Todd or No Country For Old Men for everyone else.