There's a scene near the end of Cloverfield where, after being dropped, a hand held camera, documenting Manhattan's destruction, tries to auto focus itself on the face of a dead body. This 5-second visual frustration is part of the 85-minute visual irritation that is Cloverfield.
The cinematography in Cloverfield makes Tarnation look like The Last Emperor. Defenders of its shaky hand held ("hand held" is too nice... how about "fist gripped"?) style will say it's a clever device intended to bring realism to a terrifying situation or freshness to a stale genre. Nonsense. Matt Reeves resorts to this shtick film making because he knows the ingredients (script, acting, etc.) with which he has to work with are bogus. (For a quality post-9/11 siege film watch Spielberg's War of the Worlds).
Told entirely through a Department of Defense video file, on April 27th 2007 an alien is plopped into the off shore waters of Coney Island (look for it in the film's final shot). Twenty-five days later, the creature has gestated into a empire state sized behemoth, bitch slapping the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and any skyscraper in its path. But unlike the classic b-movies - Them, King Kong, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - that Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams thank in the credits, Cloverfield forgets to have fun. Even the film's final full-frontal creature reveal doesn't stir.
Because of Cloverfield's effectively vague previews, its MySpace following, and its PG-13 target marketing, there was a palpable excitement in the movie theater when I sat down. But when the credits rolled, the audience just left. What was on-screen never came down and touched our eager eyes. Was Cloverfield just another January dump film covered up by a talented PR team?
Yes. Because of our sensational news channels and home video file sharing culture, Reeves and company are about 5 years too late with their concept. As DIY digital movie making becomes easier, we don't need our studio backed productions to get lazier. Cloverfield kicks off the 2008 movie year with a stubbed toe.