“Found footage Godzilla”. That pretty accurately sums up Cloverfield, a film that emerged out of the gates back in 2008 as a complete unknown. The production had been shrouded in secrecy and the true nature of the story was kept hidden right up until release. All we had to go on was a potent image of the Statue of Liberty without a head. What could this be about? An alien invasion, a big creature attack, or something equally as horrific?
Well, in hindsight it’s not an incredible film. Intriguing in places, yes. A few good ideas dotted throughout, of course. But, and this is its key problem, all it really presents is a ground level view of events as seen from a group of New Yorkers whose party is interrupted by the arrival of (pause for dramatic effect)… something.
This is where most of the opening third takes place, establishing the characters and their relationships with one another. Unfortunately they don’t come across all that well, being needy and emotionally broken, as people tend to be, but not in the sense that they are interesting people. As it happens they are borderline irritating and I can easily see a lot of people who have never seen it before tuning out after before the good stuff begins.
As the characters are people I barely cared about, I couldn’t name anything special or particularly outstanding about any of them. Plus, the question is raised once again about why somebody would keep filming something like this when most of us would just be interested in getting out of the combat zone.
By the time the lights go out and things start exploding (objects and, amusingly, people), you need this burst of action to wake you up. Thankfully while the opening 20-25 minutes are rather stale and dull, the rest of the film is sufficiently action packed to keep the energy levels up. Journeying across New York the group head to an apartment block to try and rescue whatshisname’s main squeeze.
Or hopeful main squeeze, they’re not a formal item. Given the grey nature of their relationship, if I was him I wouldn’t have bothered and just got out of town. But then that is why I’m not a film character, I’m led by reason rather than my hormones or the whim of a screenwriter.
So we go on a journey throughout New York, encountering the creature, the army and destroyed landscapes. Visually it’s a delight, and certainly a factor that ensures it’s not a total waste of everybody’s time.
Despite my initial misgivings, I’m intrigued by the creature, its origins and the massive question mark that hangs over its reason for existence. That is where the true strength of Cloverfield lies and cements its legacy. It’s less about what we see and find out and more about the little hints and glimpses that we get. While it may have been more in its favour to answer at least some of these details, it works just as well in letting you work stuff out for yourself.