The giant monster movie genre is one that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in western culture. In ’98 we had the bastard love child of Roland Emmerich and Godzilla, and in 2005 Peter Jackson decided to copy a 72-year-old film rather than come up with an original idea. But beyond those two there weren’t any western monsters that one could call our own, and there are none at all that we could be proud of, particularly in recent history. I mean both Kong and Zilla were taken down by guns and missiles respectively. Fucking pussies. Compare that to the real Godzilla who can survive a fucking nuke to the face.
At least, that was true until 2008, when Cloverfield was released. Possibly one of the greatest monster movies ever made.
Cloverfield was surrounded by much mystery up until its January 2008 release because it was produced by J.J. Abrams. But I’ll get into that later. All that mystery contributed to the much deserved hype. It’s unique and engaging and I for one, loved it.
I think what struck me the most about Cloverfield was the perspective. Most every giant monster movie is told from the perspective of the people fighting it and in some cases the monster itself, because it’s fighting another monster. In Cloverfield the story is told from the point of view of five 20-somethings caught in the crossfire. Average citizens, who are typically known in other monster movies as fodder or extras.
Here the fodder takes centre stage, and this works better because let’s face it, you or me, or the average person, if we are in New York when the shit hits the fan, we are not the civilian leaders, or the military, or the scientist the military hired to not listen to, we are the fodder, so it’s kind of refreshing to see a disaster film that focuses on the fodder…helpless fodder just trying to survive.
Or in this case, rescue a damsel in distress. The movie would have ended very quickly if they simply wanted to get out of town…unless they are very, very unlucky. The military is continually escorting people out of the city, so the only way to drive the story is to place the monster as an obstacle between them and their goal, which can’t be leaving the city because that is too easy. So instead, their goal is Beth. The love interest of the main character, Rob. She is trapped in her apartment in Midtown where a giant monster is tearing shit up. This gives them a reason to be in the middle of the shit while making them seem at least a little bit sane.
Each of the characters have their own personality and purpose. Hud acts as the films comic relief and cameraman. Which also means we are meant to project ourselves onto him, to a certain degree.
Marlena is the sanest person in the group, trying to talk the others into, at first not going, then taking the safest route. She also acts as a foil to Hud at certain points. She has to be my favourite character.
Rob is the one leading the group to save Beth, and Beth is a character we don’t see throughout most of the film, with the exception of the quick breaks which happen when the camera glitches out and the film skips, revealing what was originally on the tape before it was taped over. These segments are essential, because without them we would have never been able to understand why Rob would go straight into hell for this girl, considering the only other time we see her is at Rob’s party where her personality is at it’s worst.
Then there’s Lily who sort of acts as a maternal figure to all the other characters, and seemingly the most responsible of the group, and the most emotionally solid throughout the entire film, even considering all that she goes through. Which I won’t give away, watch the movie.
The whole film is visceral and shocking. It feels like you are actually there in the middle of things, and during the encounters with Clover or the Bugs, it feels like you have your life threatened, and the fear of death is a fear both the characters and audience share.
The writers do a great job at making everything feel natural, while including some very creepy moments, such as the part after Marlena sees Clover up close (but long before anyone else does), and her first line after that encounter, nearly three minutes later, is…well I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that, if it doesn’t send a chill up your spine, that’s only because you don’t have one.
One of the best moments in the film is the scene in the electronics store. Hud gets a chance to watch the news coverage of Clover’s attacks, showing the scope of the event, and introducing us to the Bugs and the military. This quickly shifts to Rob, listening to Beth’s phone message, and this is one of my favourite moments, he turns off his phone, and you can see his brother’s words echoing in his head. “You got to learn to say, ‘forget the world,’ and hang on to the people that you care about the most.” This is the last line in the film before Clover begins his attack, and it kind of ends up being the film’s theme.
As I said earlier, Cloverfield focuses on the fodder. Which kinda makes the plot sort of the reverse of every other monster film ever made. In Cloverfield, the monster attack is actually the B-plot, and the team’s journey to rescue Beth is the A-plot. In any other monster film, it would be the other way around.
The design of Clover himself is interesting, and it had better be because of his importance in the overall plot. He appears to be a fish creature. There appear to be gills or something on the back of his head, and he appears to have come out of the water if the ARG means anything…which I will get to later. Therefore, I’d like to propose an alternate name for Clover. Basszilla! Actually he’s more of an amphibian…Frogra?
Anyway, next is Frogra’s roar. Which doesn’t evoke a feeling of fear as much as it does a feeling of sadness. He’s not trying to scare the shit out of us, he’s crying in distress. I mean he’s being fired at with machine gun fire, and missiles. If that doesn’t make you cry you have no skin.
Next is Clover’s size, he’s around 100 metres tall, which makes him taller than Godzilla. Or around the same hight, because apparently Godzilla keeps changing in size…the fuck?
Plus, there’s more…apparently he’s supposed to be an infant…let that roll around in your head for a few seconds…he’s around 100 metres tall, and a baby. I’m just glad we never saw his mother. Assuming the scale is similar to any other animal, she could probably cross Manhattan is one stride, and a creature that size would be impossible to hide on Earth. Okay, they say the ocean is big and we still haven’t explored most of it. But it’s not that big, and Earth is actually smaller than you might think. In fact, I recently found out that if Earth was even a little bit smaller, it would not be able to support life. Also, our atmosphere is only 20km high. Clover’s mom would be the size of a small island, very easy to spot, especially if she ever moved…and how did Clover get separated from her? There are a lot of questions.
Of course there is one explanation for all that. He’s actually not a baby in the literal sense. He’s suffering separation anxiety from the water. Spent all his life down there, now he’s on dry land for the first time. It’s a traumatic experience, like just being born, not actually being born.
But there are more questions involving the Bugs.
What is their purpose? Are they why Clover got separated from his mother (assuming he has one)? Are they why he got on land? Where are they from? What’s their connection to Clover’s species, are they symbiotic? Since he was just born, are they a part of the gestation process? Are they more like E-coli? Perhaps there is a genetic relationship and they are not a different species, but are more like an organ, rather than an independent and unique organism.
See, these are questions that keep rolling in my head, and it would be nice if we had an answer to at least one of them. But of course this is J.J. Abrams we’re talking about, an expert in not answering questions.
Ah yes, J.J.’s trademark. Keeping shit from us. This was forgivable in the promotional period, after the trailer was released, when it was known as 1-18-08. But when they released the film, one would expect all secrets to end and all questions to be answered. Not so apparently.
It seems most of the questions are supposed to be answered by the ARG. A series of websites scattered around the Internet containing information about the movie. Fuck you! I have to go on a fucking scavenger hunt!? What is this!? Preschool!?
It’s actually kinda fun though. Looking for this information. You feel like you’re sneaking around, fitting together a conspiracy. The problem is, it’s difficult to tell if you’ve found everything. You might have all the information, or there might be a site you haven’t visited, with a piece to the puzzle that brings everything together. Or maybe there’s one site you didn’t visit at a particular time, when a clue was given under the guise of the site being “hacked.” However this is all mitigated by websites featuring the ARG being pieced together by a community. That’s what’s great about the Internet. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone and they’ll tell you. But it can kinda take away from the fun of the ARG.
Here’s what I can get from the ARG. There’s a company, Tagruato, who do many things. They manage oil-drilling platforms across the planet. They sell a frozen energy drink called Slusho, and they do other things that I don’t know about and are likely irrelevant. A while back they built the Chuai drilling station, with the full knowledge that there was no oil there. They were attempting to harvest an abundant body of Seabed’s Nectar, the active ingredient in Slusho. They found the Nectar…and Clover and the Bugs. At first they began researching him for a while, before doing something to piss him off, I don’t know what, and he responded by attacking Chuai station.
Then he attacked New York because the Mets keep losing-I don’t know. I would have figured he’d go back to his lair after taking out Chuai. But noooo.
Clover’s origin story actually reminds me of Godzilla’s origin from the 1954 movie. He was hanging out in an ocean trench for a couple thousand years before getting evicting by nuclear bombs being tested in the Pacific, and decides to take it out on Tokyo. I know a lot of people will say I’m wrong, and Godzilla was a creature was mutated by the radiation from a nuclear bomb. But that was a retcon implemented in later films. The original classic doesn’t go that far. They say he absorbed a lot of radiation, but not that he was created by it.
Clover seems to owe a lot to Godzilla, they’re both the same height, they’re both indestructible (as far as one can tell) and they both came from the ocean. Plus, according to Abrams, he got the idea for Clover after noticing Godzilla memorabilia was still in high demand in Japan.
There’s more to the ARG then the sites. There’s also a four-part manga, Cloverfield/Kishin, released online in Japanese. Which I can’t read because I haven’t learned Japanese yet. There is no official English translation, which blows my mind. The film was released in the US in English, yet the tie-in manga is only available in Japanese. Why would you do that? However there is a fan translation available online. But I can’t vouch for its accuracy.
Of course even with all that is laid out by the ARG, there are still quite a few questions. Which pisses me off. However, it’s possible they are saving these questions for the sequel, which will probably never come.
The fact that we haven’t heard a single word about a Cloverfield sequel is bothersome. Though I assume it will happen. Clover is interesting enough as a monster to pull off a full 28 film franchise. Or possibly a 15 film franchise, then a 7 film franchise, then three standalone films, followed by a two film serial where he fights Mechaclover, then a final film with Clover fighting over a dozen different monsters, and aliens…of course by then we’ll all just stop caring…
Anyway, I can’t help but speculate what a Cloverfield sequel would be like. There are a few possibilities. The creators hinted that there was another film being made at the same time. Basically saying the sequel will take place during the same attack, but from a different point of view. How many people would seriously have been in that situation? Going back into the middle of the city, where a giant monster can eat you. I find it a stretch that one group of four was, but I can buy it. The best way a sequel like that would work is if it follows four people, who keep on trying to leave the city, but always get turned back, or stopped or something, because if they end up just reusing the same premise, the public will get pissed.
There are a few other ways they could pull off a sequel that takes place during the same event. One idea involves focusing on a news reporter, embedded with the troops. As they are fighting Clover, he’s trying to get some good shots for the story. Or, they could do it documentary style. With interviews about the monster’s biology, activity, origins, and the nature of the parasites. Or they could do something different, like actually making a fucking sequel.
Come up with a follow-up to Cloverfield that takes place after Cloverfield. Perhaps they could pit him against Godzilla. Besides, we know the story isn’t over. Spoiler Alert! At the end of the credits, a strange and subdued sound plays. It’s a clip of director Matt Reeves saying “it’s still alive,” reversed. I know it’s Matt Reeves because he said as much in the DVD commentary. Though Abrams did say in an interview, that Clover did die at the end, I’m willing to bet he’s lying because he’s that much of a jackass, and he’s not the only creator.
So a new film where he fights Godzilla or something would be nice. Though I would like to point out that the Godzilla films that make the most sense were the ones where he fought an enemy that was a byproduct of himself. Makes sense because Godzilla is the real freak here, it strains credulity to have so many different origins, and some fire gods. So pit Clover against an enemy which is his brother or something, or a creature that was mutated by the Seabed’s Nectar. Something like that would work. You can continue to focus on the people if you really must, but unless we get a good view of the monster battle, you’re doing it wrong. Here’s another idea: Clover attacks a different city, and the people there freak out and the military tries new things. But he still succeeds.
Then there’s another idea. Make the Cloverfield sequel a video game. Not an action game, god no, but a survival-horror game where you try to avoid and outrun the monsters. Hell, the original film had a bit of a video game vibe, there’s even a sewer level…er…subway level.
I don’t know, maybe I’m talking out of my ass, but I do get the feeling with Cloverfield, that the story’s incomplete. It needs to be finished, as soon as possible. Because I’m annoyed that we only got half the story. I’m reminded of so many games I’ve played that were planned to have a sequel that never came, and it always pissed me off. Like Advent Rising and Tron 2.0. Of course those games didn’t sell well. Cloverfield on the other hand did. So I want to see a sequel.
But in the meantime, I highly recommend the original. Watch it in a dark room. You’ll have the time of your life.