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10 Years Later, Cloverfield Remains The Pinnacle of Found Footage Films

There’s been a lot of found footage films. But none of them can equal the scale and ambition of Matt Reeves’ monster movie masterpiece.

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There could be a bit of recency bias in my recollection here but, for me, there might be no more important year in the history of 21st Century film than 2008. There’s a few reasons for that, most of which I will discuss in the months ahead (let’s just say it was a big year for superhero movies, and leave it at that for now.) But when it comes to notable film’s celebrating their 10th Anniversary, one film in particular instantly sticks out to me: Cloverfield. And the reason why is two-fold — not only is the film’s release date extremely memorable (it was going by the title 1-18-08 for the longest time, after all), but the film itself has been one I’ve been thinking about quite a bit in the decade since.

Sure, there might be other films in 2008 that had a larger impact on the world and on cinema, but for me, at least? Cloverfield remains an absolute marvel of a film, a technically brilliant disaster film that not only defined a format, but pretty much give it a kick in the pants the moment it needed it the most. Since Cloverfield we have had many, MANY found footage films, but none have had the initial impact that Cloverfield had for me. And with the film turning ten today, I thought it would be the perfect time to reevaluate its mertis. After so many years, and what feels like a lifetimes worth of other movie releases, would Cloverfield be able to elicit quite the same response? For me at least, the answer is a clear yes. Cloverfield is a film that left me absolutely gobsmacked the first time I saw it and, revisiting it 10 years later, still leaves me rather breathless.

And, for me at least, that euphoria all comes from the result of some absolutely stellar filmmaking. At the time, it was rather shocking just how well made Cloverfield was: nothing about the shaky cam footage and blurry visuals looked like they would amount to much, at least from what the vague trailers showed us. But, now, it’s far easier to see just how technically proficient this film is. Hindsight is 20-20, but also having a grasp on who’s behind the camera helps you appreciate the artistry on display much more.

That man here is of course Matt Reeves, who made his directorial debut with Cloverfield. Reeves would go on to make two of the best blockbusters ever made (IMHO, but it really should just be considered a fact at this point) with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, but right from the get-go he proved himself an able craftsman with Cloverfield. While the film bares resemblances to both its found footage forefathers AND later successors (think The Blair Witch Project, Chronicle, and Paranormal Activity), it’s clear from the get-go that Cloverfield is working on an entirely different scale altogether. This is a film packed to the brim with huge special effects, crazy monster designs, and the literal destruction of New York City in the span of a half dozen hours. Paranormal Activity, by comparison, is about a bedroom.

None of which is to belittle other films in the found footage genre: I happen to be a fan of the conceit, generally. But, man, none of them have been able to push my buttons in the way that Cloverfield did. It was a revelation, and one that only got better and better as it spun out into grander territory. Even with the intense viral marketing and captivating trailer, I was not prepared for the ride that I initially went on with Cloverfield. And I was far from the only one — remember all the reports of the people getting sick in the theater, becoming disoriented and dizzy by the action unfolding onscreen? That’s purposeful, and though I’m sure those who experienced it would probably disagree with me, very much one of the film’s strong suits. On the surface, it’s a mere monster movie. But the way that the film tells its stories turns it into a powerful, disorienting, enthralling thrill ride.

Cloverfield

The shot of the beheaded Statue of Liberty is ICONIC, and for very good reason.

Which is kind of the point anyways, right? The whole reason found footage exists as a genre is to give viewers a rawer, more visceral experience. Take away the excesses of traditional film techniques, and you also separate the barrier between what appears fake…and what doesn’t. You end up taking away people’s perception of it “just being a movie,” to the point that they too might really be convinced that a witch killed some kids in the forests of Maryland.

Now, obviously, the same can’t really be said of Cloverfield. No one was going to get fooled into thinking the events of this film actually happened, unless they just happened to chose the film as their first bit of entertainment after coming out of a twenty-year long coma. But the fact that it feels so real despite that is what makes Cloverfield so magical: through the use of its found footage conceit, it strips away the artifice of the standard disaster movie template, and creates something far more horrifying and powerful in the process. The found footage element of Cloverfield isn’t just some gimmick to make the movie stand out amongst other monster movies — it’s essential to what the film is trying to accomplish and, ultimately, what it is trying to say about the very nature of the genre.

While it would be incorrect to say Cloverfield is the most “realistic” monster movie for this reason, I would argue that it makes it the most down to Earth one. In fact, what I love so much about the movie is the fact that it takes your standard Godzilla-esque story, and recontextualizes it entirely by focusing on your standard, run-of-the-mill people. Throughout the film, our main group bears witnesses to a bunch of soldiers running around, trying their best to combat the unstoppable monster and save the city. In most movies, you would be following the military dudes going after the monster, with the background characters trying to escape simply serving as the backdrop. But what Cloverfield so beautifully realizes is that the more interesting story is buried within these background figures, that a tale of basic human survival is far more affecting than the umpteenth story of some military figures or scientists trying to save the world.

Cloverfield

And if you’re going to commit to telling that story, what’s the best way to bring the action down to their level? Why, by literally presenting it from their point of view. The camera only catches the occasional glimpse of things, and misses a bunch of key moments, and is usually just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of chaos happening on screen. But if you were in the shoes of Rob, Hud, Lily, Marlena, or Beth, wouldn’t you be overwhelmed too? The camera is a nice way to give the film some flair but, more importantly, it’s a way to get into the headspace of the main characters.

Main characters who, by the way, are far better handled than they had any right to be. Props should most likely be given to screenwriter Drew Goddard in that department — like Reeves, time has only gone to further show how amazingly talented this man is, with The Martian and (especially) Cabin in the Woods subsequently earning raves. But even in penning his first feature film script, Goddard already showed a knack for inventiveness, and a willingness to form strong character arcs even amidst the nuttiest of concepts. While the center love story between Rob and Beth isn’t the most amazing one in the world, it has its benefits. The idea of risking your own life and safety just to save another in a time of crisis is a meaningful one, and the film’s use of in-camera flashbacks (through a pretty smart “overwriting” technique) also provides a powerful glimpse into how simple and relatable the lives of our main characters used to be before things went to shit. But most important of all, fleshing out the characters the way Cloverfield did gives the film a drive and emotional throughline that so many modern blockbusters really lack.

…Like Godzilla, for instance. Now I was going to try my best not to make this article just another takedown of that 2014 remake, but rewatching Cloverfield reminded me just how much better this film handled the idea of a stripped down, barebones disaster film. While Godzilla wasted about an hour of time with secret military tests, scientists talking about ultimately unimportant things, and criminally underutilizing Bryan Cranston, Cloverfield opens with a bunch of 20somethings having a fun party, and using that party as a way of laying down the groundwork for their future behavior and character arcs. While Godzilla spends an agonizing amount of time following ARMY MAN Aaron Taylor Johnson doing absolutely nothing of value while hopping from country to country, Cloverfield lays out the central mission of the movie a third of the way in, and focus on said mission for the rest of its runtime. While Godzilla got off on withholding its main monster through smudgy cinematography and baffling cutaways, Cloverfield uses said withholding to instill a sense of foreboding and chaos. While Godzilla is an overlong, dreary mess, Cloverfield is a brisk 85 minute roller coaster ride of action and horror. One that also happens to feature a cast of characters I actually give a shit about which, believe it or not, is pretty important for a film! Anyways, I’ll stop picking on Godzilla now. I just needed to release that rant, since I’ve been holding on to it for nearly four years.

Godzilla

Eh, at least this scene was pretty rad.

Anyways, what more can I say? Clearly I love Cloverfield and, rewatching it now, I’m taken aback with how much it still very much works. Not quite as much as it did the first time I watched it unfold on the big screen but, to be fair, what could? Seeing Cloverfield back then was a magical moment for me, as I sat in pure awe watching this crazy monster movie unfold before my very eyes. The fact that the experience can even be 1/10 as awesome some ten years later speaks to how, even pushing aside the mystery and the presentation, the film works incredibly well as a subversive, visceral disaster movie.

Part of me wants to say that I wish we got more original blockbusters that are as gutsy and crazy as Cloverfield but, really, that’s one of the film’s ultimately greatest accomplishments. Even with the found footage format being one of modern horror’s go to devices, there is nothing else that can quite match the scale and ambition of Cloverfield. And, honestly, I doubt there ever will be. I can only just hope that the ongoing Cloverfield set of anthology films will continue to find equally compelling ways to tell unique, compelling sci-fi stories. Hey, they are two for two so far! Hopefully April’s mysterious Cloverfield 3 will continue the trend.

But, until that happens, I highly recommend revisiting Cloverfield. The film unfortunately isn’t streaming on Netflix or Hulu or anything like that, but you can rent it on Amazon, and where all purchasable streaming films can be found. Or you can just watch it on a Blu-Ray disc, like me. PHYSICAL MEDIA 4EVAH.

(You might disagree with what I have to say about the film, but no one can argue this isn’t one of the all-time great teaser trailers, right? Makes one hell of a first impression, and perfectly sells the madness of the finished film.)

Here are some other things of note I thought about while re-watching the film. Also they are spoiler-heavy thoughts so, if you got this far and haven’t seen the film…just go do that instead, okay? Okay.

  • There’s a lot of oners in the film, which must have been very difficult to do with the budget and level of secrecy that the film had. Just makes the technical wizardry all the more impressive.
  • The scene where Rob has to tell his mother that his brother died is so, so great. Once again, it’s not the type of shit you usually get in a monster movie. You don’t get the time to see the direct human cost of the monster wreaking havoc, at least not as it extends outside the core group of characters. Of course all the mothers of the world would be calling their children. And of course a fair amount of those mothers are going to end up heartbroken.
  • I remember there being a huge uproar from people about how stupid it would be for someone to keep filming throughout the entirity of such a crazy attack. But, personally, I never got the argument. Hud from the beginning explains why he keeps filming everything (“People will want to see this”), and I found the sentiment mostly rang true. It was also clearly a way for him to handle the enormity of the situation, which rather intelligently made the motif an additional, but intrigual character quirk. Also, in the modern age, the idea of someone filming everything they are seeing is more believable than ever. If Cloverfield actually happened in real life, you bet your ass someone would be streaming the entire thing on Youtube.
  • The tunnel scene is TERRIFYING. The visualization of the hatchlings is just so perfect, with the creature designs overall being top notch. Props to man designer Neville Page and the rest of his team on that.
  • Marlena’s exploding head death was a visual that stuck with me for a decade. That’s when you know a film is good.
  • The slanted skyscraper also made for some neat compositions, and even cooler set designs.
  • Pulling the rhubarb out of Beth’s shoulder is horrifying, and without even showing a damn thing. It’s the little things that make this movie so great.
  • “What is that!” “It’s a terrible thing!”
  • “What is that?!” “I don’t know, something else, also terrible.” Like any good thriller, Cloverfield also takes the time for some very much appropriate comic relief. Shame it has to come out of the mouth of T.J. Miller, though. Time has been kind to Cloverfield in many areas but, uh, not that one. 
  • Speaking of genuine emotions: I love how people are actually FREAKING THE FUCK OUT throughout the entire film. Not your standard screams and other crowd noises, but genuine “OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO DIE” rantings. Can see how some could be turned off by the detail, but it just makes me appreciate the film’s authenticity even more.
  • The shot of Hud being eaten/seeing the monster for the first time. Next level stuff, people. Matt Reeves is a brilliant, brilliant man. I’m so happy he’s doing a Batman, and I have all the confidence in the world it will be great.
  • “My name is Beth McIntyre. And I don’t know why this is happening.” Can’t think of a more succinct line to express the film’s ultimate theme than that. At the end of the day, the main characters are just a bunch of tiny figures, going through a world-shattering event, and trying their best to make it out alive.  And, if a monster attack happened in real life, you can bet the vast majority of audiences would be right there with them.
  • “I had a good day.” And then that final line is just…mean. 


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

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Marvel Is Playing The Hype Game Beautifully With The #ThanosDemandsYourSilence Infinity War Letter

Is #ThanosDemandsYourSilence a sincere request, or just a cog in the marketing strategy for the biggest film of the summer? It’s both, and that’s part of the fun.

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You wouldn’t think there would be much that Marvel had to do in order to get butts in seats for Avengers: Infinity War. It’s the culmination of everything that Marvel has been building up to in the last decade and, with the brand standing as the unarguable king of all modern franchises, convincing general audiences to give a damn about that is far from a challenging task. Infinity War would make a billion with ZERO marketing…but the Hollywood machine does what the Hollywood machine does, which means that we are going to be inundated with trailers, TV spots, posters, product tie-ins, interviews, clever social media posts that go “viral,” and literally dozens of other forms of publicity as the film prepares for its grand debut at the end of the month.

But as my Introduction to Public Relations course I took in college taught me, journalism is dying and the only way to possibly make a living with the degree is by selling out to the corporations around you and taking in that sweet, sweet public relations coin however way you can. No, wait, the other thing, sorry. What I meant to write was that any public relations plan needs a simple mission statement, and the marketing for a film is no different. So when the marketing powers that be began brainstorming just what they wanted to accomplish with the advertising blitz for the film, what exactly was their approach? Well, the last few months of PR makes that pretty damn clear, at least from my perspective.

With Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel isn’t just trying to sell a blockbuster superhero movie — they are trying to sell THE blockbuster superhero movie. Through every trailer, every new piece of information revealed, and, yes, even every post to social media, Marvel and Disney are setting up Infinity War to be the mother of all event movies. You know that whole “culmination of everything” spiel I wrote about in the first paragraph? The only reason I’m seeing Infinity War like that is because Marvel WANTS me to see Infinity War like that, and have built up a pretty effective public relations campaign to do just that.

Which makes the latest bit of big publicity for the film rather inspiring, at least compared to the deluge of behind the scenes interview quotes from the producers, actors talking the film up on Access Hollywood, and the like. Posted on Twitter earlier today by The Russo Brothers (a.k.a the directors of this massive beast) was an open letter to all Marvel fans about spoiler content when it comes to the launch of the film. If you haven’t yet, check it out for yourself below:

Essentially, the brunt of the letter is this: don’t spoil the film if you happen to see it early (looking at you, fellow bloggers), because that’s not a cool thing to do. But the subtext of the letter in my mind (and what makes it such clever publicity overall) is that Infinity War is a movie that shouldn’t be spoiled to begin with. That the events of the picture are so huge and groundbreaking and game-changing for the MCU that the directors have to write a letter about it, making sure people know the release of the film is huge and groundbreaking and game-changing (it’s a marketer’s job to be repetitious. Their job! Their job is to be repetitious!) And even adding a little fun to the proceedings (a Marvel trademark!) is the hashtag “#ThanosDemandsYourSilence,” which of course has been trending all day, since Marvel/Disney know exactly what they are doing here. Hell, they even got Tom Holland involved in the mix, who as Marvel’s Resident Young Person™ has a big social media presence, and is quick to poke fun at himself in a way that delights all, causes retweets, increases brand awareness, etc.

Now, let me make things clear: while I believe this to 100% be publicity for the film, I don’t necessarily think it’s not a sincere gesture from The Russo Brothers. Of course they don’t want their movie spoiled before most get to see it, and I’m sure there is a lot of big events in the film they would rather people keep their lips shut on for the foreseeable future. But the #ThanosDemandsYourSilence thing is, more importantly, another way for Marvel to build up the grand event nature of the film, not just to get people to see the film, but to feel like they have to see the film as soon as humanly possible. Pushing the film up and making it a near simultaneous global release was one big aspect of that strategy (“Now everyone in the world can feel like they are the first ones to see it, and can experience the film free of spoilers!”), and this letter is just the icing on that publicity cake.

But I want to stress that I’m not railing against this letter — it’s a fun way to build up hype for the opening weekend, and it only does more to increase my personal anticipation for the film’s release. Which, once again, was the entire point. So purely on that level…game gotta respect game here. Bravo Marvel.

…Now give me Inifinity War, plz.


Also published on Medium.

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Disney Celebrates International Women’s Day By Giving Its Favorite Man, Jon Favreau, A Live-Action Star Wars TV Show

Deserved or not…THE OPTICS, DISNEY. THE OPTICS!!

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It’s no big secret that Disney is going in gung-ho on bringing new people into the Star Wars franchise. In the last year, we have seen over half a dozen people be given new movies and projects set within the series, as Lucasfilm slowly starts to build up what the future of this franchise will be following next year’s Star Wars: Episode IX. But while I say “people”, I probably should be more clear — white men. Disney has given the keys to the franchise solely to a bunch of middle-aged, white men.

Is this in and of itself some type of hiring sin? Eh, no, not really. And I don’t even blame Disney/Lucasfilm entirely for the situation — it’s clear that Kennedy and her cohorts are running scared a bit here, with a string of high profile, low experience collaborators causing headaches behind the scenes (Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards, and Lord & Miller.) For that reason, they have been turning to experienced “sure things” to take the reigns of Star Wars, namely in the form of J.J. Abrams (who already did it in The Force Awakens!) Rian Johnson (who already did it in The Last Jedi!), Stephen Daldry (a prestige journeyman with twenty years of experience!), and Weiss/Benioff (they show-ran the most complicated series ever made, THEY ARE PROS!) And you know what the paradox is here? All the filmmakers with decades of experience and a reputation of being professionals are almost entirely — you guessed it! — white dudes.

Enter Jon Favreau. Disney is clearly a fan of the man ever since he gave them the first Iron Man (which in and of itself was a bit of a risky decision to give to him at the time…but I digress), and has worked with him again on massive hits like The Jungle Book and future GARGANTUAN hit The Lion King. They appear to like him, he appears to like them, and there are billions of dollars that prove the relationship works. So now Favreau is being given a pretty big role in Disney’s current crown jewel franchise — Star Wars.

Not the Star Wars project you might think, though. Rather than diving head first into the crowded realm of future Star Wars movies (occupied by at least one more saga film, two competing trilogies, and a whole bunch of individual “story” films), Favreau will apparently be helming the previously announced live-action TV series on Disney’s forthcoming streaming service. This was announced just earlier today on StarWars.com, alongside the expected statement from Kathleen Kennedy:

“I couldn’t be more excited about Jon coming on board to produce and write for the new direct-to-consumer platform. Jon brings the perfect mix of producing and writing talent, combined with a fluency in the Star Wars universe. This series will allow Jon the chance to work with a diverse group of writers and directors and give Lucasfilm the opportunity to build a robust talent base.”

And the expected outburst of excitement from Favreau:

“If you told me at 11 years old that I would be getting to tell stories in the Star Wars universe, I wouldn’t have believed you. I can’t wait to embark upon this exciting adventure.”

Putting aside the pure exhaustion I have to new Star Wars projects right now (TOO MANY), who the fucks idea was it to announce this news today of all days? It’s no big secret that the critical community at large (or Film Twitter, at the very least) has been giving Lucasfilm crap for their seeming dismissal of having more diverse voices behind the scenes. Warranted or not, the complaints about the lack of anyone but straight men being a creative force of the series is extremely prevalent. And if you’re facing backlash over not hiring women to do things…adding yet another man to your company on the damn day of appreciatiating woman just reads as a back slap at worse, and tone deaf at best. READ THE FUCKING ROOM, LUCASFILM.

Ignoring the exact date of the hiring, though, Favreau being announced for this is…fine, I guess. I am not nearly as enthusiastic on the guy’s filmography as some (or Disney, especially) seem to be, but his films are usually pretty good at least (unless they are Iron Man 2.) So this certainly isn’t the worst pick for a Star Wars project. That being said, choosing a guy with zero experience writing a TV series to write a TV series of this scale is a bit disappointing. There are plenty of fine, experienced showrunners out there — why give Jon Favreau, who has already cultivated success in his career a dozen times, yet another big project? Hiring Jon Favreau to do this Star Wars series is ignoring TV showrunners who are perhaps more suitable for the part, which puts his hiring as a “double whammy” of ignoring potentially better candidates, if you ask me.

Anyways, whatever — I’m just hoping that the next announcement of someone getting a Star Wars project is a little more unique, a little more interesting, and a little more diverse. Or, second option…don’t announce another Star Wars project for a while. I think we have plenty to mull around already, Lucasfilm.


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Why Marvel Moved Up The Avengers: Infinity War Release Date

It was a win-win-win-win decision for the company, really.

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The first weekend of May is considered the “start” of the summer movie season…but, in recent years, that has pretty much evolved to become the “Marvel movie” slot. Barring one exception in 2009 (the only year Marvel didn’t release a movie in the past decade), every year since 2007 has given us the release of a new film featuring a Marvel superhero in the first weekend of May. It’s become something of a tradition, one that wasn’t entirely surprising to see Marvel keep intact as it approached its tenth anniversary as a film studio. And with Avengers: Infinity War by far representing their largest and grandest project, the Marvel May slot seemed perfect for the film to have its grand debut. And for years, we’ve all been working off that assumption. Disney set a May 4, 2018 release date for the film some time ago, and there was no way they were going to change that.

Well, they just changed that.

But unlike most sudden release date changes, this one is A) minor and B) mostly a good thing. Instead of launching on May 4, Avengers: Infinity War will now hit theaters everywhere on April 27, abandoning the May month completely. Two months before the film’s release, it’s a bit of a shocking development, although Marvel had fun with it on Twitter, by way of (who else?) Robert Downey Jr.

Now obviously this was planned (Robert Downey Jr. didn’t just push Marvel to massively move the release date of its biggest film out of the blue — come on now), but what was the reasoning for Disney’s decision here? Well, a few things.

Number one? The film was already going to release on April 27 overseas, which is typical for a Marvel release (they almost always open internationally before coming to the States). So moving the release date for America only puts the film in line with the rest of the world, which is ultimately pretty smart: now Marvel and Disney can brag on April 30 about how the film made approximately $67 billion worldwide in its first weekend of release. It will look great, vanity wise.

And this also moves Infinity War away from Disney’s own Solo: A Star Wars Story, opening at the end of May. That’s not even to mention the recently moved Deadpool 2 on May 18, which was a surprisingly big threat to Infinity War’s legs. With a three week gap between the two, however, Infinity War is now in the clear in terms of maximum, immediate revenue (all that really matters in Hollywood in this day and age.)

And as for first-weekend competetion, neither weekend poised much of a threat: nothing was playing on May 4, sure, but the only thing on April 27 was a Paula Patton thriller entitled Traffik, a horror movie called Bad Samaritan starring David Tennant, and comedy I Feel Pretty from Amy Schumer. The latter film already moved back a week to April 20, and neither of the others will make much of a dent on pop culture, so Marvel had nothing to fear with placing Infinity War against them.

Finally, the move will also cut off the threat of spoilers reaching America before the majority of the country gets to see the film. That hasn’t been too much of a threat for other Marvel releases like Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok (both opened overseas a week earlier)…but Infinity War is different. It’s rumored to make some massive changes to the state of the MCU and the characters in it, and I’m sure Kevin Feige would prefer people witnessed such developments in the theater, rather than on Twitter.

Ultimately, there’s nothing all that fishy here about the move. It’s only a week, but it could end up helping the film quite a bit in the long run. And if it means we get to see this movie seven days earlier than expected, I’m sure I’m not the only one who will take this offering with little reservations.


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