Thursday, January 17, 2008

Smitation City

The marketing buzz around the monster-takes-Manhattan movie “Cloverfield” has been compared to that of “The Blair Witch Project.” The movies are similar in some aspects, both on-screen and off: In both flicks no-name actors run for their lives under the jittery eye of a hand-held camera. In each case the footage is supposed to be a tape “found” by authorities in the aftermath of some horrific event.

Off-screen both movies received tons of hype under the guise of a “media blackout.” I remember some dopey “Blair Witch documentary” where locals in the town of Scaryville or wherever the fake footage was "found" were filmed drawling, “Ayuh, I heard tell of the Blair Witch” while eerie music played in the background. For “Cloverfield,” the marketing blitz was of the viral variety, as film fans trying to find out about the movie ended up at a series of fake websites set up containing cryptic clues to other websites.

“Blair Witch” was an enormous box office smash. It was also a pile of dogshit in this blogger’s humble opinion. All the hype for something me and three of you guys (my fellow bloggers that is) could have filmed in and around Squire’s Castle. I don’t know if “Cloverfield” will find the same success as “Blair Witch.” But I can tell you now that it's the better movie by leaps and bounds.

Of course, “Cloverfield,” produced by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams, is a much more ambitious (and expensive) undertaking, using all of Manhattan as a playground of destruction. It starts off in a posh loft where a going away party is being held for (I think his name is) Rob, who is leaving for Japan (the cinematic birthplace of the city-smashing giant monster) for a job. The party is being “documented” with a handheld video camera by Rob’s best friend, Hud. The shindig is disrupted by what partygoers think is an earthquake. (It ain’t) Then the real fun starts.

And “Cloverfield is a good time. It’s pretty intense, and at times quite comical. The film strives to be “a monster movie for the YouTube generation,” as its director states. In that account “Cloverfield” mostly succeeds, but it does help to suspend your disbelief a bit. For example, why does our amateur documentarian continue to lug around that camera while the city crumbles? “People are gonna want to see this,” he says by way of explanation. I can live with that. In this shrinking Web 2.0 world, where you can access public video sharing websites and watch Saddam Hussein get executed, it’s no surprise someone wants to record the end of all things.

(By the way, Cavs-90, Spurs-88. Nice.)