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Cloverfield… and a rejection

Cloverfield first:

At the risk of using a word I’m beginning to suspect is actually an insult in disguise, I thought that Cloverfield was… interesting. Definitely worth watching, especially on the big screen.

Fabulous elements first:

1) The use of the video camera. Even though I felt so seasick after 15 mins that I contemplated leaving the theatre, I am very glad I stuck it out. The hand-held video camera is so much more satisfyingly used in this film than it was in Blair Witch Project. In Cloverfield, the filmmakers self-consciously play with the camera, almost as if they’re saying to viewers, ‘Look! This is a fictional film, not some wannabe doco. We’re making a movie here, not a newsreel…’  The film cleverly jumps in time — to the ‘happy’ days before and back to the terror that is now — and the fluctuating auto-focus problems the camera has when ‘Hud’, our guide through 85% of the film, dies is a brilliant touch.

2) References to 9/11 – overt and subtle at the same time. Very well done; not crass.

3) The whole ‘everybody is a filmmaker’ nod. Not only are we taken through the trauma by a first-person, hand-held camera (one could imagine the film going up on Youtube – that is, if the US Gov’t hadn’t gotten its hands on it first…) but we are also repeatedly made aware that everyone is a filmmaker. When the Statue of Liberty’s head rolls down Manhattan streets, what is the first thing people do? Of course! They grab their mobile phones and start taking pictures of it. When a surprise ‘going away’ party is thrown for one of the characters, the filmmakers place another mobile phone smack dab in the middle of the shot, so that viewers are thrice removed from the character they’re meant to be looking at – they see his surprised face through the mobile video screen, which is itself recorded through the hand-held video camera, and is then projected through the cinema film. Very engaging touch.

Problems:

1) You get to see the monster. Way too much. Sure, it is a really cool monster, but seeing it in full form (over and over) removed any sense of suspense for me. Such clever filmmakers would surely be aware that the viewer is more likely to imagine something far scarier than anything they can see on the screen, and so if they really wanted to heighten the tension and fear this monster is meant to have caused, they would have been better off not revealing him so much. Think Jekyll and Hyde – scary, and Hyde is not fully revealed, except for in the reader’s imagination.

2) As if a video camera battery would last for that long. Clearly, the camera had been used to record the ‘happy’ time between the lovers, earlier. Then, it was used for hours, non-stop, at the party. And then it survived all night, with non-stop recording. (Not to mention that it was dropped several times – including from a crashing helicopter! – and it still worked properly). I can suspend my disbelief enough to acknowledge that a gigantic alien might arrive on earth one day and decide to tear Manhattan to shreds, but I can’t believe that a vulnerable camera battery would last that long. 

3) The trailer gave too much away. The problem with a first-person point of view in film is that it allows viewers to deduce too much of the plot–if the trailer has already given things away, that is. For instance, our guide Hud held the video camera for much of the film. However, in the commercials/trailer, we see handsome Rob leaving a final message: “If you’ve got this tape, then you know more than I do”. After twenty minutes or so, one realises that Hud is the only one carrying the video camera, so then next logical realisation is that he is going to die at some point — if he doesn’t die, then how would Rob get ahold of the camera to record his final message? Rob hadn’t shown any interest in the camera earlier, so why would he have suddenly grabbed it to record this message, unless Hud was dead. (*Another irritating point on this front is that Rob is meant to be Mr Video Camera – he is one of the happy lovers that carried the camera around to Coney Island, etc, at the beginning of the film – so why doesn’t he try to record any of the terror? Answer: because he is more attractive than Hud, so the director needed him to be on screen the whole time. If Rob was behind the camera, then the viewers wouldn’t get to enjoy his hotness.) Furthermore, you’d think, with the filmmakers’ clever use of the hand-held video camera, that they would have allowed different characters to record the scenes – or that they would have included snippets of various video accounts (from other cameras, from the other mobile phone videos we witnessed being shot in the film) in order to make a more complex, a more unsettling, a more disorienting film viewing experience. (I mean, I imagine that the experience of watching an alien destroy the city of Manhattan would have been rather confusing – and so the filmmakers could have heightened this confusion by cobbling varying accounts together, instead of making such a linear narrative. But I suppose that wouldn’t have been ‘Hollywood’ enough, then…)

4) One character is ‘bitten’ by the alien’s miniature offspring, and decides to dab at her wound with a soaked Kleenex. Give me a break. Rob, the pretty boy character, manages to wedge open an Aquafina water dispenser, and walks over to the table with about 6 bottles of spring water to help clean the wound. So what does the injured party do? She takes a single bottle of water, moistens a tissue, and proceeds to lightly press it against her gaping wound. Come on. Take one (or all) of those bottles and pour the contents wholeheartedly over your gashes. It’s not like fashion is at stake here – you’ve just spent the past few hours being covered in dust and debris from the ravaged city, not to mention the sweat that has soaked through your shirt from hours of running – so stop being such a princess and soak your bloody shoulder, for the love of God.

Verdict:

Go and see it. (But take some motion sickness tablets first.)

The Rejection:

I got the editor’s response for my Tesseracts Twelve sub – ‘Although the story is interesting (oh that heinous word), it didn’t grab me enough to include in the anthology.’ Short and sweet; friendly in its rejection. Fair enough.

So I’ve sent the story off to Orb to try my luck there. It’s a good story; it’ll find a home somewhere… interesting.

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