Thursday, January 17, 2008

One Down, Five to Go

Oh yeah, this is seriousThe oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. –H.P. Lovecraft

Tonight I managed to snag free passes to a preview screening of the first movie on my list of upcoming "wanna-sees," Cloverfield.

Here's the short-form review: Go. See. It.

Here's the slightly longer version:

Yes, it is Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project. But knowing that still won't quite prepare you for the visual thrills and vicarious scares that await.

Yes, the 9/11 subtext is deliberate and unmistakable (the image of a headless Statue of Liberty speaks more than a thousand words). It lends an underlying, albeit borrowed, poignancy but does not overtake the competent script.

Yes, it brings the old-fashioned monster movie genre into the age of reality TV, camera phones, and YouTube. Who knew it would be such a good marriage?

And yes, it is not without flaws. But in fact, one of its great achievements is its ability to tease the maximum suspension of disbelief out of the audience owing to its first-person narrative conceit and its fast and efficient pacing and run time (it clocks in around 75 minutes).

But, but. How do the beautiful twentysomethings afford 4,000 sq. ft. high-rise apartments in Manhattan? How does a girl in stiletto heels book through the streets of New York as if she's wearing track shoes? Why do these dopes all follow our lovelorn hero into the face of danger on the pretext of rescuing his not-girlfriend? And why does the dude with the camcorder not just shut it off, stuff it in his pocket, and haul ass out of Dodge, like any normal person would?

Well, because... then we wouldn't have a movie. Duh.

A certain type of critic -- the type whose mother still dresses him   -- will piss and moan that the movie never even tries to explain the origin, nature, and motives of the monster. I refer this type to the Lovecraft quote at the beginning of this review. Here's another clue: Every story is about the people, not the monster. And even though this movie's people aren't particularly deep or interesting, they still pass for relatable.

Is Cloverfield original? No. Like Dada, there is nothing new here; only an arrangement of "found" narrative elements. But, unlike Dada, those elements really do add up to more than the sum of their parts: We now have our first truly 21st-century monster movie.

Bottom line: My girlfriend, not known for her affinity for this particular genre, loved it. I guess watching New York City get destroyed can make for a good date after all.