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Jan. 22, 2008

A decent "Cloverfield"

by Kiera Zitelman, Online Editor-in-Chief
Some might write off "Cloverfield" as another addition of rubbish to the valueless genre of monster/disaster/science fiction movies. But at a second look, viewers will find a standout film brimming with authenticity and suspense. It's no masterpiece, but "Cloverfield" is entertaining and imaginative.

(released December 31, 1969)
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The latest from producer J.J. Abrams (creator of "Alias" and "Lost") and director Matt Reeves is, if anything, one of a kind. It is shot mainly from the perspective of Hud (T.J. Miller), a New Yorker with a close group of friends. "Cloverfield" starts out feeling like an episode of "The O.C.", with lots of juicy gossip, awkwardness and sexual tension among the six main characters (all played by unknowns), but it picks up quickly. Hud and his friends are at a party in downtown New York City when they feel tremors. Going up to the roof to investigate, they witness an explosion, and later, a skyscraper-sized monster destroying the city. The rest of the movie consists of their attempts to avoid certain death at the hands and teeth of the creature.

"Cloverfield" is relatively short, at only 90 minutes. And yes, all of it is seen from Hud and his friends' shaky camerawork. Yet this unconventional technique works for "Cloverfield." Reeves solves the technical problem of battery life and tape length by shortening the film, leaving out a solid introduction and conclusion in the process. "Cloverfield" is able to pull off the handheld perspective for the entire duration, and it deserves praise for that it's not an easy task.

The point of the handheld narration is authenticity. The camera isn't always following a certain character, or scanning the skyline for a sight of the monster. Like any amateur cameraman caught in a monster rampage, Hud drops the camera, stops recording at times and tends to hold it sideways. Viewers adjust to the perspective quickly, but Hud's camerawork makes him invisible for much of the film. As a result, his only purpose is observation, and he doesn't develop or affect the other characters.

Due to the handheld camera, the special effects aren't the main focus of the movie but they are nevertheless well done. The monster is never seen for more than three or four seconds. But the destruction of the city is impressive, particularly the severed head of the Statue of Liberty being thrown down the street.

Where "Cloverfield" might go wrong is the intensity. Hud's sub-par, handheld camera work somehow includes incredible sound, and the hour and a half of roars, screams and crashes gets tedious. The unpredictable plot leaves several questions unanswered, and the blood and confusion may be too much for some viewers nausea, anyone?

"Cloverfield" definitely works as a science fiction and monster movie. Some call it America's response to Godzilla, but on the whole it's unique and enjoyable. Within the science fiction genre, "Cloverfield" rises to the top.

"Cloverfield" is rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images. Now playing everywhere.



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