02 September 2008


Cloverfield Is One Inappropriate Movie
By Kristin Battestella
I didn’t know much about the 2008 thriller Cloverfield when we got the disc from Netflix. I read the descriptions about aliens in New York ala Godzilla, but Cloverfield is definitely not Godzilla. Despite intelligent acting and filmmaking, Cloverfield turns out to be nothing more than an exploitation of New York and September 11th.

During Rob Hawkins’ (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girl Lily (Jessica Lucas) say their goodbyes as pal Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) videotapes the last hurrah. Rob, however, regrets not telling his best friend Beth (Odette Yustman) he’s in love with her, but disaster strikes the city. Something is attacking crowds and destroying buildings, but Rob receives a call from Beth. He’s going back to save her, and Hud and his camera are right behind him.

I do have some good thoughts about Cloverfield. Not since The Blair Witch Project have we seen such innovative direction and camera use-in addition to an ambitious and ambiguous marketing campaign. The first person handheld camera style, natural use of lighting, technology use on screen, and the slow reveal of the clover alien-these intelligent and witty contributions from director Matt Reeves give us a feeling of authenticity. Likewise, the relatively unknown cast is just that; unknown, normal people that this could happen to at anytime. They’ve got real issues, relationships, and problems. Writer Drew Goddard smartly spends a good portion of the film simply developing the clique of these kids. They’re afraid, they make the wrong choices, and unlike War of The Worlds where Tom Cruise never gets a scratch or has a hair out of place, people bleed in Cloverfield.

I would adore these essential and well done elements in any other disaster flick. Give me rival alien planets or disasters in fictitious cities and I might be more forgiving at the veiled portrayal of 9/11. It’s one of the things I love about genre films and literature. Often the big bad aliens hide our fears of communism or tyrannical rule, such as McCarthy era stylings like Monkey Planet and Starship Troopers, or more simply The Blob. Cloverfield, however, goes too far in blurring the line between fiction and reality. Who decides that they are going to have New York destroyed by an alien attack after September 11th? It will be cool! What effects we can make! Let’s make use of people trapped in subways and have people calling each other on cell phones pleading for help! We already saw all too real destruction created by human hands in Manhattan. It’s utterly callous of anyone to think we’d want to see thousands of people escaping across the Brooklyn Bridge be blown up.
Cloverfield is disturbing because its premise is quite true. How many recordings and tapes were in fact recovered from 9/11? I’m not so sure we were ready for authentic tales like Flight 93 or World Trade Center, and we certainly aren’t ready for misunderstood aliens (What the hell is a clover or a cloverfield anyway?) to come along and exploit such a delicate disaster. It’s exploitation at the highest (or lowest) level. When watching Cloverfield I constantly recalled where I was on that Tuesday seven years ago. Not that it’s ever been far from my mind, and I only watched it on TV from 100 miles away. I can’t imagine, however, a 9/11 survivor or any family member with nothing but a cut off cell phone call as a goodbye from a loved one could view this, let alone find any reason for Cloverfield having been made.

I’ve been harsh, sure, but we shouldn’t have to make hype and science fiction to keep disaster and human willpower on our minds. What’s next from producer J.J. Abrams? The Crystalline Entity from Star Trek is going to destroy a fictionalized New Orleans, where fictional black characters must step up against a lackluster but fictitious white government? Honestly. Cloverfield is inappropriate and unnecessary, to say the least. It’s like our initial rush after 9/11 to show patriotism- on everything from plates to thongs. Why did we eat off the Twin Towers and pick our asses with the American Flag?
CloverfieldMaybe some folks do need a fantastical recreation to express themselves. Understandable. Fanboys will eat up the effects and alien imagery features on the DVD, and yes, a sequel is in the works. But anyone who is touchy or sensitive about September 11 should skip Cloverfield. I would never have thought I’d put myself in the touchy/sensitive/prudish audience, but millions of us already watched September 11th, and I have no desire to see anything like it-real or fake-ever again. Cloverfield is not a triumph of art or the human condition, but rather an inappropriate disaster flick that says nothing beyond distaste.

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