Posted by: kfugrip | January 28, 2008

Cloverfield (or reach for your barf-bag)

My dislike of hand-held camera work is well documented in this blog but there are times when it works well and fits with the director’s concept. Mostly I feel like it’s lazy filmmaking. A director (or even a writer if it’s in the script) thinks that it puts the audience in the moment so any time there is an emotional scene they feel like it has to be hand-held, and the shakier the better.

I didn’t watch the show On the Lot but I did see part of one episode. During that episode they showed the contestant’s short films and one of the short films was a two-hander at an outdoor cafe. I couldn’t hear the dialogue but the scene consisted of a single and an over-the-shoulder shot and both were hand-held. It made no sense but I knew what the director was thinking, he was thinking that it would put us in the moment and make the scene work. Well, it didn’t and the director’s short cut to creating a tense dialogue failed.

Cloverfield, directed by Matt Reeves, is 84 minutes of hand-held camera work, some of it nausea inducing, about a group of friends who set out to save another of their friends during a giant monster attack on New York City.

What I liked: I did not hate that fact that the film was entirely hand-held. The concept of the film lent itself perfectly to a roaming, nervous camera. For those that don’t know, the film is shot from a home video camera by one of the characters, Hud (T.J. Miller), as he follows his friends through the city. This in sometimes intercut with footage that was previously on the tape, of two characters, Beth (Odette Yustman) and Rob (Michael Stahl-David), on a trip to Coney Island. It works.

The performances are good especially for a monster movie. The action is well paced and leads to an interesting conclusion. Not typical Hollywood, the ending is foreshadowed in the opening text. I liked the story a lot, and I thought that the unexplained monster was perfect, and reflected what these type of experiences are like. You don’t know what is going on.

I also must mention the early ad campaign. The teaser was great and drew me in and I’m not an action (or event) movie person. Maybe the trailer was better than the film.

What I didn’t like: The film breaks the strands of plausibility too many times. It’s difficult to believe that someone would continue to film everything during this crazy attack but there are some scenes where people aren’t going to pick up the camera and film things. I can’t go into detail without spoiling, but everyone knows the scenes I’m talking about. Also, there is a scene in the subway where one of the characters gets a phone call… in the subway station. For a New Yorker, which I am, it took me right out of the film because you can’t get cell service in a subway station unless you’re at 72nd street at the 1 or 9 station.

The camera work did get to me a few times. I had to look away to get my bearings and that is not good. I wasn’t running for the aisles but I didn’t sit as close as I normally like to sit, so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. I think that this film could have been shot with a Steadicam and it wouldn’t have taken away from the experience. The audience would have understood that it was still a guy walking around with his camera it wouldn’t have been as difficult for people to watch.

4 stars




  1. Braf-Bag? Is that what you reach for when you’ve watched too many episodes of Scrubs? It’s like eating too much candy, if candy were Zach Braf’s patented saccharine-sweet acting.

  2. the movie was at least original, but a little excessive on the camera movement, true

  3. Actually, 14th st at the 1/2/3, astor place on the 6, and a few others get cell service now. the stop they were at (Spring on the E?) i can’t say for sure if it gets cell service because i never have reason to be in that station.

  4. What I can’t figure out is that I really enjoyed the movie overall and thought the techinques were pretty original and correctly handled, however I felt zero fear and zero connection to the characters. If I was a tough girl and wasn’t such a scardy cat maybe this would make sense…but I’m a complete chicken…so why was I completely disconnected from these character and from “the scary events” even though they were depicted in such a “real” way? I don’t know. I can’t really figure it out. Maybe because it was just so over the top? Maybe because there is not time taken to set the scene? I Am Legend, though not a great film either, scared the crap out of me multiple times…why the difference? I’m lost.

  5. BRAF BAG?!?!?!?!?!?

  6. picky picky.

  7. Proofread? What’s that?

  8. Proofreading? Oh boy, thats where youre not a Viking.

    Also, one critic said with the digital stabilizers on hand held “digi-cams”, peoples videos are quite that shakey anymore. Take that Private Ryan.

  9. Wow, that was a piss poor comment on behalf. HAHA you didnt shoot Cloverfield, you already know about digital stabilizers you Star Trek feinding nerd.

  10. when we went to see it, everyone but ric i think got seasick at some point in the flick. i was feeling it within the first five minutes, and watched maybe a third of the movie without watching it. WINK WINK, KNOW WHAT I MEAN? NUDGE NUDGE.


  11. […] style of the Dardenne Brothers and less from the “shakey-cam” school, where I’m nauseated and attention is brought to the fact that the camera is on someone’s shoulder. Again, […]

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