Monday, October 27, 2008
Since I liked Quarantine a lot more than I was expecting, I decided it was time to be all benevolent and shit and give Cloverfield a shot. It seemed to fit a similar pattern, where I thought the trailers made it look like ass and I hate the stupid faux-documentary gimmick, but then it got good reviews and whatnot. So I gave it a spin.
And it actually turns out that it was kind of a mistake to have watched this so soon after seeing Quarantine, because it just helped to underline some of Cloverfield's major flaws. Most notably, Cloverfield felt really false and stagey to me, and when you're pretending to be comprised of actual footage from someone's video camera, that's fatal.
Some of it has to do with the scope of the movie. It's about a giant Godzilla-thing destroying a city, that also sheds from it's skin giant Starship Trooper-looking bugs that go around biting people. This means there are many large set pieces, with lots of special effects. And unfortunately, the movie doesn't do a very good job of integrating the actors with the effects. I'm not against CG as a rule, but it looked unconvincing here. I had trouble suspending disbelief.
Moreso, though, I think the feeling of stagey-ness comes from the writing and acting and the, um, staging. (Shit, I couldn't end that sentence without getting redundant.) Too much of the dialogue didn't ring true, and the actors, while adequate, felt like they were performing and didn't strike me as natural. And even more than that, a lot of the filmmaking felt staged rather than on-the-fly (which it's pretending to be). There are a lot of moments where things seemed perfectly framed to catch the important bits of action, or to teasingly show parts of the monster.
There's also this little gimmick where every now and then the video cuts out and cuts to a video of something else that was recorded on the same tape. Essentially, it's a way to ironically show footage of the characters during happier times. It's an okay idea, but the placement of cuts is obvious, especially in the beginning where one of the characters wonders if they are recording over his tape, and at that very moment it cuts to the older footage of his. I don't know if I'm explaining that well, but it's distractingly phony.
Quarantine was far from realistic. It could even be accused of some of these same flaws, but it did a better job of masking them. It keeps it's action confined to a small area, doesn't add any extraneous plot details, keeps the character motivations straightforward, and does a better job of looking like it was shot spontaneously, while still skillfully manipulating the audience.
Cloverfield might have played better on the big screen, with surround sound and a receptive audience feeding off its energy. Maybe I could have been more immersed, more convinced by the special effects, more willing to submit to the spectacle. Instead, on my little TV, it felt phony, and the style created too much aesthetic distance (or maybe cognitive dissonance?). I didn't hate it, and there were a handful of neat moments, but it didn't engage me at any point. I don't get the hype.