We recently went to see ‘Cloverfield’, and were pleasantly surprised. It’s good to find out that an action flick doesn’t need the laughable Bay/Bruckenheimer mayhem to appeal to a large audience. Instead of the usual chest-thumping, combustive bombast, aiming for direct impact (I actually think the score during the credits at the end is meant as a joke, adressing the usual overly dramatic all-over soundtracks in Bay-esque movies) here is a film that is quite effective in communicating the sense of individual fear and tension, in situations where the reality of every day life is crushed in extraordinary ways. There’s only one small explicit reference to 9/11 in the film, but it could have been a subtext with much more weight. It’s the individual, direct perspective in the context of blockbuster cinema that is kind of refreshing (and it’s very much part of our new way of seeing the world, mediated by mobile media and online video platforms) – it’s supposed to be a limitation, given the all-encompassing power of cinema narration, but here it’s very exciting in all its suggestion of the ‘bigger’ event. The camera-image is concentrated on the action on the ground, lifting only once in a while just to catch a brief, fleeting glimpse of the carnage happening around, and that’s what strikes chord, immersing the audience in confusion, anxiety, the sense of not-knowing. Of course this is Hollywood cinema, and unlike the ‘Blair Witch’ project ‘Cloverfield’ is a big-budget film, and although it looks like it’s shot in guerilla style, including jump cuts, creating a feel as if it was all edited in-camera (I praise the makers for that), it’s scripted in every detail. So, as the story unfolds – leaning on the obligatory love plots between people looking like H&M models – the dread and anticipation are being build up, and towards the end it’s sort of sad to get to see the ‘bigger’ picture (well yes, there’s a monster in a bad mood goin’ around town, and you get to see the thing in close-up). The film is succesfull in engaging the audience from the start – actually even long before it came out – so it didn’t really have to follow that narrative logic.
But anyway, some mysteries remain, leaving lots of opportunities and even clues for (unavoidable) sequals (or who knows, versions that provides another perspective on the same events). New myths are being created on the internet, where according to some the overarching story of Cloverfield takes place. The internet was actually the place where the story was established, long before the movie came out, and looking back on the previous months of online mythology creation, it’s really brilliant, a wet dream not only for marketeers but for story-tellers as well. Sure it’s essentially a viral marketing stunt (as for ‘Lost’, or ‘Snakes on Plane’), but even more so it serves as a the source for the backstory, bringing, in the footsteps of ‘Blair Witch’ a new dimension to the so-called ‘faux documentary’ tradition in cinema. Using a combination of subjective, mobile camera perspectives, news formats (lots of Cloverfield newsflashes are circulating on the net) and networked media bridge the space between the camera and the event, screen and viewer, reality and fiction, resulting in a dynamic that’s even more effective than television in penetrating, even overtaking the everyday environement of the audience. The first online video teasers, followed by many sites that were specially created, like the fake MySpace profiles for all the characters, as well as the references to fake companies (Slusho, Tagruato, Tidowave), brought about an immense wave of reactions of people who desperately tried to piece together the mystery, getting fed new clues as time went by. And apparently, according to sources like http://cloverfieldclues.blogspot.com (this guy has actually been interviewed by several traditional media as a “Cloverfield expert”) the clues are still coming (on sites like 01-18-08.com), unfolding new mysteries (where did the monster come from? is there more than one? what was that thing you see falling in the ocean in the last scene of the film? What is the meaning of the sounds you hear after the end credits? Damn, I didn’t even NOTICE these clues). For people who’d like to keep on deciphering: check the video diaries on jamieandteddy.com (focusses on a minor character in the movie), the “Chuai” news footage (provide insight about “attacks” before New York), the Kishin manga that appeared out of nowhere (that is supposedly a prequel to all of the events) and especially: when you see the film, keep a lookout for cameos of characters and logos, and please don’t forget to stay till AFTER the credits. The mythology continues. More than ever.
… And new ones are created. JJ Abrams (producer of ‘Colverfield’) is working on the new ‘Star Trek’ episode (scheduled for 2009). The first teaser just was “leaked” online. And yes, it works.
UPDATE: The ‘subjective POV’ format is spreading like a virus. Just heard about the recent Spanish movie (REC), directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, in which a TV reporter, following a few firemen for a reality show, ends up surrounded by zombies. An American version is already in the works, working title: ‘quarantine’.
The movie has an interesting viral ad, focussing on audience reactions: