Love Cloverfield (No Spoilers)

I took my son to see Cloverfield for his birthday (happy birthday Ben). Okay, I did some other stuff for him too.

Was Cloverfield worthy of the hype that lead up to it? Yea, I think it was. It was like and unlike any other film. The first person perspective may have been done (Blair Witch) and of course monster movies have been done. But the mixture of all of these elements worked extremely well in this film. We don’t many good shots of the monster, we don’t get an explanation of where it came from or what it is, we don’t really know if it is dead. This is part of the brilliance of the film. The monster isn’t the center post holding up the film. It is an extra, a huge, hideous, destructive, important extra, but an extra. Think about that. The planning and detail that went into the monster and yet it wasn’t the most important part of the film. Brilliant. This gives me some hope for the film version of Halo. Master Chief is not going to be the star and that made me think the film, like every other game-to-movie venture, would fail. But maybe not.

What made Cloverfield work is the story. And that is true of any film. If the story is good it is hard to muck up the film. If the story is poor, no amount of trick photography and explosions can save it. What is the central story of Cloverfield? It isn’t about 9/11 or our collective fear of attack. Yes, there were nods to 9/11 in the film. A building collapses, a wall of dust moves down the street, some voices in the chaos even mention it but that wasn’t what drove the movie. It didn’t motivate the characters and propel us along with it. The monster didn’t do that. Love did.

How wild is that? A love story is what moves the plot in a monster film. Rob loves Beth and that is what keeps him in the middle of all of the action. If the film had acts, the first act established Rob’s relationship with Beth and ended when he found out about her plight. The second act was Rob’s drive to be with Beth. The final act is probably best left undefined here for fear of spoiling the experience of the film. But I will say that involves Rob and Beth.

But it had to didn’t it? I think the first person perspective required it. We had to be in the film. We had to be with Rob and his friends and feel with them. Not only fear of the destruction and the monster, but we had to come to know the characters and care about them. If we didn’t, then the jittery, swinging camera work would only serve to annoy us. Or make us sea sick. To believe the characters and live their plight with them, we needed more than big explosions and scary villains (Michael Bay, I wish you understood this idea!) Up against a monster as horrible as the one in Cloverfield, only something as powerful as love could carry the plot along. Just before the first explosion of the film, Rob says something about love and when everything is taken away what is important to you. I wish I could remember the line, it was the most important in the film and tells us what is to come. Everything is taken away from Rob and he runs to the one thing that matters in the midst of the chaos: the woman he loves.

As Ben and I were saying on the way home, if JJ Abrams is smart, and he seems to be, there will be no sequel. The story was about Rob and Beth and that was it. I hope they don’t make a second film. But they probably will and it will be what our dulled, spoon-fed senses have come believe is what film is about: action. I hope they don’t.

Here are a couple of reviews I liked. Christianity Today was very good, especially the warnings at the end of the piece and discussion questions. Luther At The Movies, er, Anthony Sacramone at First Things offers his usual clear insight with a bit of humor

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