It probably goes without saying that at some point, Hollywood will have co-opted all your dreams/nightmares/fantasies/etc. and tried to sell them back to you. With Cloverfield, I think I have finally reached that point. Hats off to producer J.J. Abrams for nailing two of my major categories: 1) lost on an island with polar bears, smoke monsters, and a random VW van, and 2) a post-apocalyptic alien invasion (or some sort of monster) in Manhattan, where I currently reside. Actually, much of the film’s main action happens just a few blocks from where I go to grad school. Very co-opted indeed!

Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by J.J. Abrams
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, and disturbing images

While I didn’t necessarily have high expectations for Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams’ marketing campaign excited me. In fact, all I really wanted was a satisfying conclusion to the ads I had been seeing, and Cloverfield delivers well. Cleverly constructed, and playing into the worst fears of most Americans (i.e., a 500-foot spider-like terrorist… oops! Did I say too much?), this really is, as some critics have pointed out, horror for the YouTube generation. The pervasiveness of camera phones and people eagerly capturing what would probably amount to thousands of hours of grainy, jerky footage, indicates we have now even entered a new era of horror and spectatorship. Despite this, Cloverfield opts to go old school with a typical camcorder. I suppose the next step will be videos assembled from YouTube or some other viral site.

And of course, there is the fact that you see the monster. Yes, you see it. No, it is not a big revelation. I don’t know if this should disappoint you or not. For me, it wasn’t that shocking. There is little computer animation can create these days that will inspire the same fear Jurassic Park put in my third-grade heart. The most shocking things, of course, are the ones that thrust computer generated material into my very world as a viewer: seeing buildings collapse, watching crowds run from plumes of smoke filling the streets. Abrams blatantly capitalizes on societal fears, and it works pretty well.

Drawings of the Cloverfield monsters
Film artists’ drawings of the Cloverfield monsters.

And, of course, we know he is. To see some producers willing to pull back and reveal the seams of film poses the question of whether film is unraveling its own mystery. When the marketing calms, and we finally see the monster for what it is, will it be fascinating? Will we gasp or just go, eh, figured as much?

Cloverfield is certainly a pretty satisfying conclusion to an interesting ad campaign. Though there certainly is nothing mind-blowing about it (who knows what does that anymore), it was an enjoyable ride. It makes me begin to wonder, though, how “Lost” will end in a few seasons. Will I sit back and say, not that life altering of an ending, but it was worth the ride? Or, what a waste of the last few years. Time will tell. In the meantime, I hope nobody else will.

Micah Towery is working on his master of fine arts degree at Hunter College in Manhattan. He is the founder and co-editor of The Cartographer Electric.

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