Not many films in recent memory have polarised opinion in the same way that Cloverfield has. Whilst some proclaimed it to be a new form of cinema, a new and modern way of seeing and experiencing a narrative – others seemed to think that it betrayed its central premise and offered only a Blair Witch Project perspective on the Godzilla story. So I definitely approached this film with a series of preconceptions.
I personally enjoyed Cloverfield as an experience as a group of young New York socialites live through an assault on the city from a pleasingly Lovecraftian behemoth. Where I think the film was successful was in its representation of panic and confusion in a large scale disaster. It maintains a pacy and visceral feel with some judicious editing, which is the key aspect for most criticism as the editing is paced in a very story driven way – not as if it were filmed continuously by one man in the middle of a crisis.
There’s an obvious inspiration for a large scale disaster in New York City and Cloverfield is very much a post 9/11 film. It resonates with images of partially destroyed buildings and dust clouds. The film being told in hand-held camera shots also keys back into this modern disaster. This all makes Cloverfield representative to a greater or lesser extent of our image consumption. Digital recording devices are obscenely widely available and this, in turn with the way that modern media services such as 24 hour news repeatedly push low quality images has made some subtle changes in the ways that we are prepared to receive a story. I don’t think Cloverfield is revolutionary in this respect (see [.REC] for a similar representation on a smaller scale) instead it is one of the more complete and comprehensive realisations of this phenomena.
Where Cloverfield stumbles is in its showing and telling. You are told everything you need to know to enjoy the film and you see precious little for a large portion of the narrative but there is a final and completely unnecessary reveal, a face-to-face of sorts, that breaks the veneer of distance between the major event and our relatively minor characters. This does threaten to undercut the central conceit of the film as does the hinted at denouement for the big Cthulu chap. But thankfully the preceeding hour is enough to forgive these flaws. The internet would have me believe that at least one of these things is down to suggestions from Steven Spielberg. Who proved, to me at least, how woefully out of touch he is with modern audiences when he presented that awful Crystal Skull episode last year.