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Monday, July 16

My Thoughts on Cloverfield

Like everyone else, I saw the Cloverfield trailer (here: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/11808/hd/) before Transformers and my head exploded. I was already primed for a huge battle between giant robots in a crowded metropolis...a mysterious rampage filmed, Blair Witch style, helmed by J.J. Abrams, was icing on the cake. The marketing was ingenious and viral. Just enough to tell us what the movie's about but not enough to tell us what the movie is all about.

Since then, crazy stuff's been flying all over the web. There's the question as to whether the Ethan Haas site has anything to do with Cloverfield. More and more, it looks like that's not the case and actually a situation where two viral marketing campaigns collided (an inevitability in the age of copycat marketing, I'm afraid). I'm sure the guys at Mind Storm Labs are thrilled. In fact, I'd venture to say that outside of the Dungeons & Dragons promotion in that GE commercial (where a geek gives a Player's Handbook to a supermodel), this is the most publicity a table-top RPG has ever received.

Not that it matters. Clueless Forbes.com thinks it's "a campaign for a video game" http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/575467/20081850.

What's really telling about all this hoopla is how ridiculous the blogging community is as a news source. For example, the assertion that Cloverfield was tied to Cthulhu was made by an ANONYMOUS POSTER on one of the Ethan Haas sites. This would of course require maybe a half hour of digging through Google to find out exactly what the source was (or wasn't). But there are many, many blogs out there that repeat every piece of news as if it were true, breathlessly reporting that the Ethan Haas site was part of the Cloverfield campaign, or that Ethan Haas was definitely featuring the Cthulhu mythos because it had "Cthulhu fhtagn!" as a secret message, or (this is my favorite) that Ethan Haas is definitely tied to the Cthulhu messages because the entry on Wikipedia says so.

Kids...I love Wikipedia. I do. But I recently discovered that the average salaries for graduates of Dowling College (my undergraduate alma mater) make "$5,987". Because some wanker edited it. In case this is news, anyone can edit Wikipedia. What's the Internet coming to these days when suddenly our fearless bloggers are all so gullible as to believe Wikipedia hook, line, and sinker? Hell, some bloggers even pointed out that the entry didn't have the line...and then suddenly referenced Cthulhu an hour later. Almost like it was...EDITED!

There's a lot of wacky theories about Cloverfield that seem to be forged of hopes and good wishes. I think it's time to inject a little bit of common sense into those theories, which seems to be lacking a lot these days. So let's deconstruct them one by one, shall we?

First, a few things need to be established. By all accounts, Cloverfield is about a giant beast of some sort, which we can reasonably assume from the roaring going on in the background, playing football with the Statue of Libery's head, etc. Abrams is letting us know, to quote The Thing, "Whatever it is, it's weird and pissed off."

Second, the trailer was filmed entirely with handheld cameras. Abrams is giving us a feel for what the movie is like. And it's scary as all get out.

1) Voltron. This is almost exclusively based on the rumor that Abrams was working on Voltron and that someone shouts, "It looks like a lion!"

Have you seen Voltron?

You do realize that it's about a colorful Super Sentai, or superhero team, using giant mechanized lions to defend the universe against giant monsters, right? And that those lions turn into a giant robot that wields a BLAZING SWORD, right? And that the primary villains, giant monsters called Robeasts, were formed by a witch (yes, I said witch) named Haggar, who usually gave them some kind of magic to make them ridiculously large and thus suitable for fighting Voltron...need I go on?

In short, Voltron is a superhappyfuntime anime-style, big mecha, kid-friendly genre. Anyone confusing Transformers with Voltron has not watched Voltron. Transformers took itself seriously most of the time. Voltron is Power Rangers with Lions. This is not a genre you produce with handheld cameras. Nor is it particularly scary.

2) Cthulhu. Now I want this to be so true. I really do. But there is bupkis to support this theory. The Cthulhu fhtagn nonsense was tied to Ethan Haas, not Cloverfield. However, the theme of apocalyptic horror fits -- instead of showing the massive beast on a wide-angle lens, it's appropriate to film it from the human perspective. In other words, a you-are-there kind of guerilla style.

3 Lost. And what, exactly, makes the trailer reminiscent of the style of Lost? Some folks are positing that it’s a flashback of sorts. Are you kidding me? The entire tone of the trailer doesn’t match up with Lost. In fact, it’s the anti-Lost. Lost is subtle, slowly building to one-two gut punches. The trailer was like a shotgun to the face. Abrams was producer on Felicity too. But I don’t see anyone making that connection (but that show DOES frighten me).

4) Alias. God help us. Similarly, there’s nothing right about the tone of the film that matches up with Alias. But then, Alias had a season finale involving zombies, so that’s a bit more plausible. Still, the whole point of Alias is ya know, Sydney. No Sydney in the trailer? Not Alias.

5) Godzilla. This is the go to guy for giant monsters. I’m surprised everyone isn’t claiming it’s King Kong, but I’m guessing that’s because nobody can top Peter Jackson. And Godzilla’s associated with fire breathing, so heck, that makes perfect sense.

Except it doesn’t, because Godzilla isn’t personal horror. Godzilla is like a natural disaster. It’s hard to make natural disaster films as personal as the trailer. And the rights to Godzilla aren’t available. And Godzilla’s already been done, horribly, before. Studio execs are a cautious lot. My guess is they’re not ready to immediately remake a major mess, not when there’s so many other ripe franchises just waiting to be screwed up.

The one thing that does seem to be connecting Godzilla and Voltron together is that Slusho.jp is undeniably a Japanese site. And it’s weird. All this talk about people drinking some kind of weird concoction and getting as big as whales. Sounds like Honey I Blew Up the Kid.

6) The Dark Tower. I haven’t read the series. Is there a giant monster in it? I didn’t think so…

The truth is that it’s likely an original property, or a remake of a Japanese property. There are a dizzying variety of giant monster (kaiju) films that could fit the bill. But that’s not important. What’s important is the style of film that the trailer showed us. And that is a personalized horror at an apocalyptic event. With the advent of 9/11, big monsters have lost most of their appeal. When a building explodes, when a beloved monument is defaced, it is greeted with mounting dread.

Abrams and his crew know what they’re doing. Now they just have to live up to the hype.

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posted by Michael Tresca at 8:03 PM


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