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A movie directed by Matt Reeves

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The Monster Takes Manhattan

  • Jan 18, 2008
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There are monster movies and then there's "Cloverfield," a film that many have correctly described as a cross between the "Godzilla" films and "The Blair Witch Project." Rather than conventional movie cameras and conventional movie camera tricks, a handheld camcorder is utilized for this film, meaning that the visuals are effectively reduced to shaky close ups, choppy cuts, and problems with lighting and focusing. But camera tricks are only part of what makes "Cloverfield" so incredible: here's a film that reinvents the grade-B atomic films of the 1950s, first be eliminating the cheesy science fiction of outer space aliens, undersea creatures, and genetic mishaps, second by including a plausible and tense character story. This movie is not about camp--it's all about panic, fear, and the terror of a monstrous giant destroying New York City.

The film's real genius is in its mystery. Much like the characters, we too are completely in the dark about the situation, and we remain so even after the film ends. What exactly is this creature? Where did it come from? Why is it attacking? Since these questions are never answered, your guess is as good as mine. And that's exactly the way it should be, since the science-related explanations of films like "Godzilla," "Them!" "Mothra," and "It Came from Beneath the Sea" are so worn out and ridiculous. We don't even get a real sense of what this creature looks like, although we are treated to some brief glimpses and a silhouetted long shot near the end of the film. I'll spare you a description, simply because I want this review to be just as elusive and enticing as the film's ad campaign.

The human story is appropriately simple and insignificant, given the fact that we only care about the action. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) has received and accepted a job opportunity from Japan; his friend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), and his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), see him off with a surprise party, one that would have been a blast were it not for Rob's would-be girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman) showing up with another man. Assigned the task of capturing testimonials with a camcorder is his friend, Hud (T.J. Miller)--he quickly forgets his assignment and begins filming everything, including the inevitable fight between Rob and Beth. Hud also begins following a girl named Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who doesn't know anyone at the party that well and doesn't seem too comfortable with Hud or the camera.

Everything comes to a grinding halt when the ground momentarily shakes, causing the power to fluctuate and an oilrig near the Statue of Liberty to collapse. The news reluctantly speculates that an earthquake has struck New York City. But the truth is quickly revealed, and at that point, all hell breaks loose; an explosion across the river sends up a massive fireball, forcing everyone at the party to run out of the building. Soon after, the head of the Statue of Liberty comes skidding down the street, and that's immediately followed by the collapse of a massive skyscraper. The resulting cloud of dust and debris engulfs everything, forcing Hud, Rob, Jason, Lily, and Marlena to take refuge in a convenience store. While there, Marlena says something to the effect of, "I saw it! It's alive!" No one has a moment to question her because ground-splitting footsteps are shattering the windows.

This is only the first in a series of terrifying events documented by Hud, who never once switches the camera off. The Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed as thousands attempt to cross it. Smaller, scorpion-like creatures fall off the giant monster and begin attacking; we eventually learn that being bitten by one of them isn't a good thing. Military units are swamped, not only because of their depleting manpower, but also because of the number of injured civilians. As the city crumbles, Rob gets a frantic cell phone call from Beth, and he realizes that she's trapped within the city. Feeling guilty over the fight they had earlier, he vows to find and save her, no matter what. Hud and the others follow more out of fear than anything else, which is understandable since the thought of being separated in the middle of a disaster is horrifying.

Some of the most frightening moments take place underground, with the main characters traveling through New York's subway system. Who knows what could be lurking in the dark corners of the tunnels, away from the noise and chaos on the surface? And even if they do make it, what will they find when they emerge? Will there be anything left to find? Will something be waiting to find them? It's this maddening sense of uncertainty that makes "Cloverfield" more than just a monster movie rehash: there's genuine suspense coursing all throughout, and for once, it's BECAUSE of the gigantic monster, not IN SPITE of it. You know this is true when Beth's apartment building is finally revealed--it's leaning against a neighboring building like a domino ready to fall.

We occasionally see bursts of old camera footage showing Rob and Beth at Coney Island, which was effective given their current emotional drama. It was also effective for the movie as a whole; I instantly recognized the escapist potential of this film when I saw its first teaser trailer back in July, but even after months of insider rumors and speculation, I never once thought that I'd be using words like "brilliant" to describe it. But the reality is that it is brilliant: brilliant as a horror film, brilliant as a thriller, and brilliant as a reinvention of the monster movie. "Cloverfield" may actually be one of the greatest monster movies ever made, a taut, unnerving, and completely original fright fest that doesn't lose itself to campy science fiction. It's set a new standard: The monster movie that subsequent monster movies will be compared to.

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June 11, 2011
I see you enjoyed this film a lot more than I did, I liked the intentions and how it wanted to be different, but I had major issues with the characters and how the POV style hampered its feeling of realism. Still a fun movie but it sure could've been a lot better. Have you seen [REC] the original Spanish horror film that inspired Quarantine? amazing and thoughtful write up though!
June 12, 2011
As monster movies go, yes, I thought Cloverfield was top notch. No, I haven't seen [REC], and to be perfeclty honest, I have no real desire to see it. I have seen Quarantine, however. It was passable at best.
More Cloverfield reviews
review by . May 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     I've gotten tired of the gimmicky "found-footage" style of filmmaking, especially in horror films. I love the horror genre for many reasons, and these films...they have plagued it with the same old approach. However, "Cloverfield", in spite of its premise, offers something new for movie-goers. Think of is as "Godzilla", but if it had been filmed with a piece-of-shit camcorder. Also, the monster here isn't Japanese.    In the end, I think …
review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When one thinks of "Cloverfield" (2008) the awesome "hyped-up" trailer comes to mind. The teaser trailer was very well-marketed and does grab our attention. J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible, Lost) definitely knows how to arouse the curiosity and attention of moviegoers. Now, the only problem with hyping up a film so much is that it either works or it doesn't. Hype can definitely work in putting people on theater seats but once word gets out that the film is "anything …
review by . February 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Godzilla on steroids
  When reviewing Cloverfield obvious comparisons to movies like Godzilla are easy to make, but this film is so much more then a simple monster bash. Cloverfield is a wild mix of Godzilla like monster fun, blended with The Blair Witch Project camera style and Jaws (30th Anniversary Edition) like suspense all blended together to make one of the most perfect monster/disaster/horror films of the modern day.       First off lets give some credit to the incredible job the producers …
review by . May 28, 2009
I highly recommend watching Cloverfield this year or any other year ...if you are being held at gunpoint. Otherwise, you are free to skip it as I wish I had. Thankfully, a friend bought me the movie ticket & I even felt sorry for the poor chap afterwards having to invest money on this hunk of steaming crap.       I have heard all the rumours on how Cloverfield is the new Blair Witch Project. Just forget it! Blair Witch Project & Cloverfield …
review by . February 09, 2009
Just like many of you, when I saw the preview for this film I instantly dubbed it "a must see". What can I say? Something about the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling down the streets of Manhattan had me hooked. More importantly I couldn't wait to find out what exactly was causing this carnage. So it was with great expectations I strapped myself in for what was sure to be an incredible ride.      Now I could go on and on here about who the cast is but you would have no idea …
review by . April 28, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Special effects, pacing      Cons: Nothing original, terrible narrator, very shaky camera--not for the motion sick.      The Bottom Line: If you've watched half a dozen scary or alien movies, then Cloverfield stole part of it; still there's enough to entertain.  Warning if you are prone to motionsickness, skip it.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Cloverfield is the …
review by . August 02, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
To give the utmost atmosphere of authenticity, `Cloverfield' films all its monster movie proceedings as though an amateur were using an average video camera. All the starts and stops of footage are effective enough, and the glimpses of the modern equivalent of New York City's Godzilla keep tangible, but not always present.     Just like all disaster pictures, the prologue introduces us to all of the characters. We need to know and care about them. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) …
review by . July 05, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
The idea behind the film is clever, even if it is a bit obvious -- to the point where it's surprising nobody has done anything quite like it, or at least nothing on a similar scale. Somebody thought, let's make a monster mayhem flick but instead of a blockbuster make it an indie, shot amateur style: Godzilla meets the Blair Witch. That allows them to economize on the special effects, using sparing effects that would work on tv but not on the big screen -- but when shot on a consumer video camera …
review by . November 03, 2008
You know a movie is bad when it is set in New York but named after a road in Santa Monica, CA..... This gives you an idea how unimaginative and mindless the movie is.    I didn't mind the cinimatography. However there wasn't really a plot to peak of, the characters were pretty lame, and the monster was pretty one-dimensional. In general, I say don't bother with this movie.
review by . October 02, 2008
Pros: no pros in this film     Cons: darkness overrides production     The Bottom Line:   "No one knows what I am  No one knows why I did it   No one knows from where I come  I am Clovie!"  ~wjmmovieman         For once I get to bash a monster flick in the same decade as it was released. Never seeing any trailers for this film, and reading only summary comments from viewers, …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


One of the first things a viewer notices aboutCloverfieldis that it doesn't play by ordinary storytelling rules, making this intriguing horror film as much a novelty as an event. Told from the vertiginous point-of-view of a camcorder-wielding group of friends,Cloverfieldbegins like a primetime television soap opera about young Manhattanites coping with changes in their personal lives. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving New York to take an executive job at a company in Japan. At his goodbye party in a crowded loft, Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) hands a camcorder to best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), who proceeds to tape the proceedings over old footage of Rob’s ex-girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman)--images shot during happy times in that now-defunct relationship. Naturally, Beth shows up at the party with a new beau, bumming Rob out completely. Just before one's eyes glaze over from all this heartbreaking stuff (captured by Hud, who's something of a doofus, in laughably shaky camerawork), the unexpected happens: New York is suddenly under attack from a Godzilla-like monster stomping through midtown and destroying everything and everybody in sight. Rob and company hit the streets, but rather than run with other evacuees, they head toward the center of the storm so that Rob can rescue an injured Beth. There are casualties along the way, but the journey into fear is fascinating and immediate if emotionally remote--a consequence of seeing these proceedings...
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Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: January 18, 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: April 22, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 25min
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"The Monster Takes Manhattan"
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