Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Matinee Musing


Film review by Lee Alon

Since the dawn of humankind stories and narrative have been about perception. And good stories were the ones that managed to play tricks with their audience’s perceptions. This doesn’t have to be overly meaningful or oh-golly mind bending and life changing. It’s enough to get much more than what you were expecting to get upon sitting down to hear the tale.

And this Cloverfield does so, so well. In fact, it’s one of the best, most memorable movies of the decade so far. I was literally and physically gripped with emotion when it ended, a situation amplified by my prejudiced, indoctrinated psyche mumbling “but it’s a monster movie, for Pete’s sake!”

That’s like saying the Grand Canyon is a gap in the ground. It’s true, but somewhat underwhelming and unappreciative. Put plainly, Cloverfield is a masterpiece of storytelling because it’s potent and powerful, not to mention well managed: the thing is just over 80 minutes long and succeeds in narrating more than most would require three times as long for. It becomes omnipotent thanks to its short run, which means we only get fleeting glimpses of everything, from the beautiful to the terrifying.

Cloverfield is also a superb vehicle for some new and exciting talent. All actors herein rise to the challenge and perform marvelously, so here’s hoping we’ll be watching more from Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, T.J Miller, Jessica Lucas and Mike Vogel sometime soon.

The film has been the subject of much speculation, with producer JJ Abrams of Alias and Lost fame and director Matt Reeves (Felicity) playing it hush hush. The wait was worth it, and indeed the team used Cloverfield as a neat way of acknowledging many of the other gorgeous stories we’ve all enjoyed in the past: War of the Worlds, Stephen King’s The Mist, maybe even TV series Jericho. Of course Godzilla – perhaps more 1998’s US Godzilla than the original movies, but that was a fun version no matter how you look at it.

Cloverfield, on the other hand, isn’t about fun. It’s about sheer emotional and contextual impact. It starts with a going away party for one Rob Hawkins (Stahl-David), who’s bout to leave for Japan. This is where we learn the characters aren’t all perfect and have some issues. Then the attack comes, and a group of friends finds itself on the run, with only a handheld camera to document events as a mysterious monster rampages around Manhattan.

At first we get next to no information on what’s going on, it’s all a big tease that keeps you guessing and thus makes the inevitable twists and angles all that more gratifying. Likewise, the destruction wrought upon NYC is excellently depicted via capable but never overwhelming or cheesy CGI. This also holds true for the monster when we get to see more of the character – everything looks perfect, unlike that other New York disaster flick of recent times, I Am Legend. Maybe this is why Cloverfield has been catching flack vis a vis the events of September 11, it’s just so vivid and moving, there’s nothing cinema-detached about it.

The roller coaster that this motion picture amounts to doesn’t last long, but features everything in the storyteller’s guidebook: love, romance, fear, hate, loss, hope, despair and quite a few more. And you’ll feel all of them right along with the story, down to the sobering closing moments of this wonderful ride.

I therefore salute Cloverfield and all those who had a part in making it a silver screen reality. It’s a great movie, I love it, it caught me completely off guard and came out on top with that elusive magical quantity called emotion, a thread so woefully missing in many other narratives and, sadly, from life as we know it in general.

Well done people, well done: I’ll be thinking of this one for some time to come, and am waiting with bated breath for the special edition release. Just let me at those deleted scenes.

Rating: * * * * ½

Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, T.J Miller, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel
2008, English, 85 minutes
© 2008 by Lee Alon

Lee Alon is now formally addicted to gaming and believes it is the answer to life, everything, the fish and even 42. yes, that was the question. oh, this ga ming here has nothing to do with slot machines or little cards with royalty on ' em.

Lee resides all over the world and thus thinks we only have each other for comfo rt, so keep reading this space.

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