Friday, January 25, 2008


First, about me. When I was three and four years old, I liked to draw, and most of what I drew was little stick figures in caves being chased by dinosaurs. I already had a shaky relationship with the adults in my life, trying to exorcise some demons.

Later, my favorite movies were “King Kong” and “Godzilla,” both of which I saw repeatedly thanks to the miracle of the “Million Dollar Movie.” It was great to be afraid of a giant, vicious thing that you were actually safe from, nothing was going to jump out of the TV and grab you, make you eat soap or something. I even enjoyed the nightmares these movies gave me. I still have them, and in the dreams I am very, very afraid, trying to hide, and hearing the smashing foot-falls getting closer. The fear, I think, came before the movies. I hid from my mother on many occasions and dreaded her approach too.

So of course I would go to see “Cloverfield” with great enthusiasm. And of course, I would love it, did love it, do love it, can’t wait to see in again, in Thai, tomorrow, to check the dub against the English version.

Boy, will some people hate this movie! It's totally annoying, a reproduction of a bad job of amateur home movie making. Half the time it's slung over the guy's shoulder and he's running. And the characters are by and large annoying, especially the guy with the camera. But of course I loved it all, and found the story quite astonishing, after having seen all twenty-eight Godzilla movies, numerous times, dozens of other Japanese Kaiju movies, and every American and English movie ever made that featured a giant monster. In “Cloverfield” the convention is turned on its head. Generally, the ordinary Joe’s are just running in long shots, terrified or not, usually it’s extras who can’t act, sometimes the camera gets too close and they look bored, like, where’s my three-thousand yen?

Cloverfield,” on the other hand, features only the parts that have never made it into a monster movie before. Here the no-name, terrorized people make the movie as they run around, in grand mal jeopardy from creatures big and small, and the general environment of aircraft, flying debris, armored vehicles, fires, and explosions. Honestly, frightened people firing automatic weapons are more terrifying to me than Giant monsters, I can tell you.

There are no generals, no scientists, no scientists’ daughters, no newsmen, no children-in-jeopardy, no stupid policemen, no resolution, no happy ending, no ending at all: a totally post-modern movie. No front and center for this monster either, until the very end, and then briefly, just long enough to add insult to injury. Before that you get views of what it's busting up, with a giant shoulder here and there. There’s not one sighting or mention of either computers or the Internet. And most amazingly, no disagreeable human characters, no bad guys. No particularly sympathetic characters either, just some schmoes caught up in history.

The so-called critics are all over the place on this one, both ends and everything in between. Lots of “post 9-11” complaining, like something that big could rush around lower Manhattan without knocking over the Woolworth building, among others, and like the buildings could fall without sending the clouds of dust down the street, I hate to tell you but the ‘Zill man has been doing just that to Tokyo since the Fifties, dust clouds and all, 9-11 was life imitating art. Lots of “Blair-Witch-Project-Meets-Godzilla.” Critics affecting boredom, like they didn’t really wish that they were genuine artists themselves and had come up with the idea. Lots of “old-wine-in-new-bottles,” I don’t remember them saying that about “. . . Private Ryan,” just as guilty and simultaneously innocent of the charge. Lots of glowing reviews too, plus a range from indifference to mildly entertained.

Here’s the deal: “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.” Oscar Wilde said that, in the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891). I daresay he’s the equal or better of any of the critics assigned to write about “Cloverfield.”

You probably shouldn’t see “Cloverfield.” After all, it’s really annoying, and you don’t really like art anyway. Stick to “cows in the grass,” and leave “Cloverfield” to the connoisseurs of giant monster movies.

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