Last night (well, technically today) I saw Cloverfield at 12:01 am. This was an amazing feat for me, as my internal body clock is only wired to be "awake" from 11 am to 8 pm, and sometimes even then I'm sleeping on the inside.
I went with Jeff and a bunch of friends, and even though I hadn't been overly excited to see it, I really liked the movie. I guess the best approximation I can give you is that it's Godzilla-meets-Alien in New York City, filmed in the style of The Blair Witch Project. And, before I tell you why I think a lot of people have their heads up their asses in regard to Cloverfield (Manohla Dargis, I'm looking at you), I need to give a few disclaimers.
1. I am not, generally, a sci-fi fan.
2. I have never seen Godzilla in any of its incarnations, nor do I have any desire to.
3. I went to film school and spent a lot of time (1998-2002) analyzing movies and breaking them down by scene, by theme, even by individual frame. I looked for meaning in every shitty little prop. HOWEVER. I am reformed. I now hate analyzing movies beyond their basic themes I hate it because I think it takes the fun out of it, especially when the movie in question was obviously made largely for entertainment value. In other words, sit around discussing Fassbinder all you want; Deep Impact has no deep meaning, so eat your popcorn and shut it.
Anyway, so basic Cloverfield overview: monster takes Manhattan, people freak out, people die, buildings fall. Much death and destruction.
So Ms. Dargis over at the Times says: "Like “Cloverfield” itself, [its] monster is nothing more than a blunt instrument designed to smash and grab without Freudian complexity or political critique." My friend Alex, a huge sci-fi dork (I think he'll take that as a compliment) blogged about the movie in much the same vein as Manohla, mentioning that in the original Godzilla, the monster is "such a sound horror film metaphor: Godzilla = Atrocity of Atomic Warfare (Hiroshima)", whereas Cloverfield "is a rejection of beauty ... of Godzilla's purity and his purism".
Okay. So. When exactly did it become impossible to just have a good old-fashioned monster who kills because they are a flesh-eating monster? Granted, I haven't seen Godzilla or the original King Kong, so I don't really know if those movies were meant to be, like, deep cultural critiques. However, that's not why you rent a movie. Nobody says, "It's been soooooo long since I saw a film deliver a great metaphor about atomic war. I know! Godzilla!" People say, "I'm in the mood to see a giant monster step on people and knock shit over. Yeah." Both Dargis and Alex make the argument that the filmmakers were trying to make a comment about 9/11 and terrorism, but honestly? Can you ever have a movie where buildings fall in New York now that doesn't recall 9/11? Peter Jackson's King Kong wasn't taken to task for being vulgar. And, why is it so "insensitive" of filmmakers to make a movie that has buildings falling? In a -- I'll say it again -- monster movie? I am a New Yorker, and maybe I'm insensitive, but it really doesn't bother me that much. Actually, it bothers me a lot less than something actually re-enacting 9/11. I know that Alex is probably right, that historically monsters in film represent political problems and collective fears and threat of discord and chaos, etc etc, but you know what? IT'S A MOVIE AIMED AT THIRTEEN YEAR-OLDS. WE ARE NOT TALKING THE LIVES OF OTHERS HERE, PEOPLE. IT. IS. A. GOD. DAMN. MONSTER MOVIE.
Phew. Sorry. I get angry when high-brow critics try to make fun of low-brow things just for their low-browness.
Dargis continues later on, after making the observation that one of the main characters films every single second of the action -- something I'll concede requires suspension of disbelief, but then again, it's also a stylistic choice to film it verite-style, and a key plot point is that the kids are filming everything themselves. Anyway, Dargis writes: "For a brief, hopeful moment, I thought the filmmakers might be making a point about how the contemporary compulsion to record the world has dulled us to actual lived experience, including the suffering of others — you know, something about the simulacrum syndrome in the post-Godzilla age at the intersection of the camera eye with the narcissistic “I.”
I sure the fuck never had that hope. Any movie with a giant goddamn monster in it best not be trying to feed me something as pretentious as that. I KNOW the world sucks. That's why I GO to movies, bitches! Manohla, sweetie, have your friends ever called you a "buzzkill"?
My point is best made by the very fact that Alex hated Cloverfield. He is the kind of film student who doesn't often like mindless popcorn flicks. He feeds on hidden themes and political allegories and words like "aesthetic" and "mise en scene" (however, at this point I should point out that Alex enjoyed Basic Instinct 2 -- arguably the most useless piece of crap every produced in the history of the world -- more than he liked this.) Anyway, Alex is hardwired to need more than just a monster and some bloody death. He needs meaning where sometimes there is none. Or at least that's how I see it when someone can't enjoy a dumb movie just for the fact that it's exhilarating and entertaining.
I mean, look, Cloverfield isn't a great movie. It will never make 10 Best lists or win awards. The acting's mediocre and the plot's ... well, unrealistic. But. It's a -- last time, folks -- monster movie. What, really, does it have to aspire to besides being scary? I liked it without thinking about it, without comparing it to anything, without searching for meaning. I just liked it. So call me low brow, call me a bad film student. I'll take that as a compliment.