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Summary:

For all of the internet hype J.J. Abrams curried for his latest display of inimitable cinema mystique, Cloverfield remains firmly stuck in twentieth century. The driving voyeuristic shtick of the film — the character-held camera that documents the entire incident — is never developed beyond mere […]

For all of the internet hype J.J. Abrams curried for his latest display of inimitable cinema mystique, Cloverfield remains firmly stuck in twentieth century. The driving voyeuristic shtick of the film — the character-held camera that documents the entire incident — is never developed beyond mere contrivance. Despite its high-tech marketing, the movie itself is decidedly low-tech and consequently out of sync with its audience. The filmmakers do nothing to push the film’s structure beyond its decade-old Blair Witch roots.


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The result is that Cloverfield is nothing special. You’ve seen it all before. The novelty is that Mr. Abrams wants you to pay $10.50 to see poorly shot glimpses of a monster too large to be captured on DV tape. Hollywood’s treatment of cinéma-vlog-ité winds up being a hackneyed mode of storytelling that gets in the way of the story and leaves me wondering — did this movie need a theatrical release at all? Could it have instead been released online, available as a mysterious download? This would have made Cloverfield a remarkable piece of twenty-first-century digital filmmaking as opposed to a twentieth-century piece of Hollywood tech-sploitation.

The film presents a extremely analog fight against the monster. Indeed, the starring posse of twenty-something year-old Manhattanites defy their demographic and have nary a smart phone among them. The characters never employ anything beyond a dying cell phone and a fire ax to fight their way through midtown. The most high-tech the film seems to get is the never-ending battery and DV tape in the camcorder that run for nigh on 12 continuous hours. In the world of Cloverfield there seem to be no text messages, no Google maps, and no hyperlinks.

The film had the potential to give the Lonelygirl format a big-budget treatment. What if a Cloverfield website had encouraged fans to post their own video encounters with the monster and share their own Flickr pages documenting the destruction? What if instead of videoed confessionals at a party there were “bon voyages” and “best of lucks!” scrawled on the departing character’s Facebook wall?

Let incidental comments, messages, texts, and pics take care of the character development the film tries cramming into a half dozen flashbacks and several lines of strained dialog. Instead of a disorganized scatter shot of one-off websites, what if the film had worked to create a digital mass media mise-en-scène, allowing viewers to interact, explore, and share an understanding of the Cloverfield world?

Too bad Abrams is too attached to the studio establishment to pull a Radiohead on the movie industry.

Sure, it wouldn’t be worth $10.50, but neither is Cloverfield on the big screen. A feature film should be a unique experiential event. Cloverfield took a digital idea and gave it an analog treatment.

  1. are you kidding me?

    cloverfield was WAY better than blair witch.

    at least you saw something this time.

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  2. I’m assuming it was released as a movie, because they wanted SOME KIND OF RETURN ON THEIR INVESTMENT!.

    Seriously, I love the cutting edge of web video, it’s an exciting place to be and I love working in it. But when I need to actually make money, I go back to features and television work.

    When was the last time you saw 41 million dollars in weekend revenue from a web-series?

    The money is just not on the web yet. And I hope that changes soon. But until it does, the best media is still going to be found in TV and Film.

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  3. Cloverfield was the worst piece of crap monster movie i have ever seen, i Think the success of the movie was due to the lack of coverage.

    This is great example of how you can trick the public into thinking a bad movie was a good one. take out the 10Mins of video that only show the sky and the other 10 that only show some ones feet and the last 10 that is video of the camera moving and you end up with a crappy 60min youtube movie.

    if it wasn’t for all the hype of the preview then the movie would have probally bombed out.

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  4. Craig,
    Interesting idea, but I’m JB on this one. a 41 mil return on a sleepy January weekend is hard to argue with. Pushing boundaries is one thing, but with all the pre-release internet marketing hulabaloo surrounding this one, I doubt that some more “interactive” or cutting edge online elements would have pushed it even more in the black. Hollywood will still leave it to the small timers/ amateurs to be risky and edgy online and then snag whatever ideas work (but perhaps less watered down) and use it to meet their needs.

    On another note, haven’t seen the film, but there’s no tech product placement in this one? seems like it would be a good op for that. Deadly city crushing monster brought to you by myspace mobile. Ha.

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  5. What are you talking about Craig ?

    Cloverfield was released online

    http://www.youtorrent.com/tag/?q=cloverfield

    If the Studios don’t release a movie online it will be done for them !

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  6. The $41M return was a bit surprising for a “sleepy January weekend.” And by no means would I expect the first feature film released online to pull in those types of numbers.

    But still, I think Cloverfield, with its aesthetic and target demographic, would have made a strong showing online had it been released. Which filmmaker will be the first to “pull a Radiohead?” Any guesses?

    Also, Matt_ has an excellent point. That is what happened to the music industry which is now dismantling their business model. We’ll see how long it take the film industry.

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  7. A lot of us 30 somethings are lost on the Radiohead references. I know they are a band. Overhyped…largely unlistenable. I mean I can’t understand the vocalist anymore than a dethmetal singer. So they released a record knowing people wouldn’t buy it…wow, bully for them.

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  8. I loved seeing it on the big screen. Visceral thrill ride. Also ditto on the “return on investment” thing. Stuck watching it on my 15″ in laptop? No thank you.

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  9. Like OMG the format is 10 years old?! Eeww no way! Yet if it were a throwback to film noir you’d be hailing its classical references. I understand that Serious Film People must sneer to maintain credibility, but I had a great time watching Cloverfield.

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  10. I think that Cloverfield was genious. As a production and marketing aspect he put you into the action. this was not your typical alien movie. This was from a first person POV. Yeah it was shaky and simple but it worked. You actually feel like you are there with the camera. Sometimes simple is better, but this movie was far from simple. There was immense work on CG and motion tracking. I think it was refreshing to see a movie made from this point of view again like Blair Witch in which you see nothing! The marketing worked very well with it!

    http://www.animagicstudios.com

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