As a general rule, films about large creatures attacking major conurbations rarely make good cinema. Whether it's King Kong vs. Godzilla, where two men in monster suits knock seven bells out of some plywood skyscrapers, or the latest Godzilla, where even state-of-the-art CGI failed to send the pulses racing, the concept is basically just too silly to frighten anyone.
Cloverfield, on the other hand, brings one or two innovations to the table that make it a cut above the average huge-creature feature. For one thing, since 9/11, the idea of buildings collapsing and sending clouds of dust billowing between rows of New York skyscrapers no longer seems so far-fetched. For another, the whole event is apparently captured live, as it were, on a wobbly video camera, albeit one with eight-track Dolby sound.
This latter conceit disguises the general lack of interesting characters and the hokiness of the plot, in which four young people deliberately ignore the generic government guidelines on dealing with monster attacks – run away screaming – and attempt to free another young person who is currently impaled on a spike half-way up a skyscraper that is itself balanced precariously against another, but who is otherwise doing fine.
As with Jaws, where Steven Spielberg overcame the problems of a recalcitrant and notably unthreatening rubber shark by only allowing us glimpses of the fin and teeth, so Cloverfield allows us only the briefest glances of a tentacle here and there, giving the monstrous creature real menace, especially when it, quite gratuitously in my opinion, knocks the head off the Statue of Liberty.
Cloverfield also subverts an obvious strategy available to the standard monster-threatened fugitive (go down into the Subway and wait until it goes away) by introducing a bonus of some Alien-like mini-creature offshoots scuttling along the ceiling and adding to what is, overall, a pretty bad night for the protagonists – what with the exploding head and all that.
With its fast-moving, disorienting camerawork – which is easier on the eye on DVD – and thunderous sound design, Cloverfield manages to generate plenty of shocks and excitement. It's the nearest that cinema has come to a genuine theme-park thrill ride for a long time.
Pete Barrett, retired IT specialist, Colchester
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