Some more thoughts on Cloverfield

A Great Cinema Fan has taken the time to write a long response to my post on Cloverfield. As he has done me the courtesy of articulating his thoughts, I decided to take the time to further articulate mine. As GCF does not choose to be affiliated with one sex or another, I will use the traditional “he.”

I could not disagree more with you regarding this film. It’s baffling how you can compare this to Godzilla and the Posiedon Adventure…both those films had a disaster that the storytellers at least attempted to explain.

It is true that the writers of both The Poseidon Adventure and Godzilla attempted to explain the disasters central to their narratives. For the record, the explanation of the disaster in The Poseidon Adventure is “an underwater earthquake” and the disaster in Godzilla is caused by a very large lizard, awakened by an h-bomb test in the Pacific ocean.

Here’s the thing about “explaining the disaster”: the audience doesn’t care. We don’t care what caused the tidal wave, we don’t care why Godzilla is awake. The explanations have absolutely zero dramatic impact. The scenes in both Poseidon and Godzilla where serious-looking men furrow their brows and discuss the science behind their disasters are not only the least interesting scenes in their respective movies, they are some of the least interesting scenes in all movie history. And that goes for King Kong (including the remake), The Towering Inferno, The Day After Tomorrow and especially the American remake of Godzilla. These are the scenes any child skips over to get to “the good parts,” and any Great Cinema Fan would be embarrassed to be caught watching.

Let me ask you this; which do you think is more plausible; That the studio execs greenlighted this because of some high minded notion of introducing NY post 9/11, or, that they said “let’s throw the statue of liberty around and put a monster in the film and not explain how it got there, because that would take too long and we want a small runtime to run more screenings per day and up our box office take”

I don’t think either of these scenarios are remotely plausible. The studio greenlit Cloverfield because they thought it would make money, true, but “throwing the statue of liberty around” and “not explaining how the monster got there in order to cut down on the running time” were not factors in their decision.

However, if the studio made a decision to make Cloverfield a half-hour shorter than a conventional action-horror movie by cutting out the scenes where scientists and military commanders stand around in a dramatically-lit room and discuss, with furrowed brows, the science of the thing that’s wreaking havoc upon Manhattan, I congratulate the studio for their acute cinematic acumen. But I suspect that these decisions were made by the moviemakers.

Godzilla was a dinosaur. This was a minotaur on steroids. My powers of suspension of belief are strong, which is a help because I enjoy sci-fi films, but this is another monster altogether.

It seems that the makers of Cloverfield have frustrated GCF by creating a monster with little basis in known morphology.

No explanation of what it is that’s destroying NY. No explanation of how it got there. Nothing. Just disaster.

I’m sorry that Cloverfield didn’t work for GCF, but the movie’s mysteries surrounding the creature and the reasons for its appetite for destruction are exactly the reasons the movie works so well. It explores “just disaster” in exactly the same way that most people experience it — frightening, chaotic and completely meaningless.

What I have learned from this film is not that the majority of people are extremely easy to please, it’s that a great many of the movie going public who like this rubbish are representative of a potion of American cinema today; a true lowest common denominator film.

I’m not sure what most of this sentence means, but I do agree that Cloverfield is a “lowest common denominator film” — anyone can enjoy it, no specialized knowledge is required.

It saddens me to learn that you as a screenwriter praises this film in the way that you have. I can only imagine other screenwriters feel the same.

This happens to be true — many other screenwriters do feel the same.

From a technical delivery point of view the movie treads water well, but from a screenwriters point of view it is absolutely atrocious.

This depends, I suppose, on one’s definition of screenwriting. The ambitions of the screenplay for Cloverfield may be modest, and it delivers no wisdom greater than “hold on to the ones you love,” but it achieves its goals with great skill and dexterity, and that, on any scale, is no atrocity.

I can at least take comfort from the fact that it is experiencing 60% plus drops weekend on weekend, which in movie business parlance means that it has no worthy word of mouth to help this “high point of American cinema” pass the hundred million dollar mark.

I thank GCF for his insights into “movie business parlance,” but in current marketing schemes, a 60% drop indicates only that the marketing people did their job well — everyone who wanted to see the movie in the first weekend was able to. The movie business, to a large extent, is driven by opening weekends, which are engineered for maximum hugeness. Even with its relatively precipitous drop, Cloverfield has managed to make back almost three times its budget in three weeks, which, in movie business parlance, is a big, big hit.

Hopefully it’s ineptitude to perform well at the box office post it’s advertisement laden initial release will serve to remind Hollywood that making movies is about storytelling, the true foundation of great cinema.

As noted above, Cloverfield has performed just fine at the box office. GCF is correct that movies are about storytelling; it seems that I have a broader definition of storytelling than him. I find the storytelling in Cloverfield compact, efficient and streamlined — the moviemakers tell us what we need to know, and leave out everything else, and tell their story in a way that’s stylish, surprising and keeps things moving at a breathtaking clip.

Releasing a movie absent of any story should reveal what these studio execs really think about you the viewer.

I have seen movies with weak stories.  I have even seen movies with nonexistent stories.  Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, for instance.  Cloverfield‘s story is simple, but it is not weak, nor nonexistent.

By the by, I’m not quite certain of the stats to date but if I remember correctly this will be the lowest grossing film at the box office as a function of its opening weekend, in the action genre, in over 25 years. Check out or for the stats if you’re so inclined.

I believe I will.

Box Office Mojo, the site I find most efficient for these things, lists Cloverfield as “Action Horror,” but does not have a list of Action Horror grosses that I can find, nor plain Action (which strikes me as odd). Cloverfield currently ranks #117 of all opening-weekend grosses in history ($40 million), ahead of such comparable movies as Alien vs. Predator ($38 million), Armageddon ($36 million), Minority Report ($36 million), Lethal Weapon 4 ($34 million), Live Free or Die Hard ($33 million), Lethal Weapon 3 ($33 million), Blade II ($32 million), The Sum of All Fears ($31 million), Saving Private Ryan ($30 million), Constatine ($30 million), and about ten billion other action/adventure/horror titles.  So “lowest grossing film at the box office in the action genre” seems to be a pretty poor description of Cloverfield.  It is also the biggest January opening in history. With a well-spent budget of $25 million (I shudder to think what the marketing budget was), it will most likely end up being one of the most profitable movies of the year, if not the most profitable.

I understand that some people don’t like Cloverfield, and its hard for me to believe that a movie this simple and direct went “over their heads,” so once again I have to assume that there is something else about the movie that does not sit well with this rather vocal minority.

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28 Responses to “Some more thoughts on Cloverfield”
  1. Anonymous says:


    For me, Cloverfield was a rollercoaster. But not the good kind.

    For the first 30 min or thereabouts I was grinning ear to ear. I was thinking, This movie is living up to the hype. It’s going to make 300 million. It’s smart, I’m getting into the characters, it’s got a great hook, great look, the effects are mind-blowing…

    Then something happened. The story and energy died. Fast. Like letting air out of a balloon, but pinching it firmly to minimize the flatulence sound.

    It died as soon as they entered the subway station and set up camp. The characters had no idea what to do, no clear direction, so everybody just stopped, sat down, and waited for the screenwriter to have a brainwave. And waited. More waiting. For me, the movie never recovered its sense of urgency and craziness. The rest played out by the book: Horror Screenwriting for Dummies. And then it got plain silly, and people became superhuman, surviving critical wounds and crashing helicopters. By then I had revised my earlier box-office tally to 30 or 40 million tops.

    Nothing cinematic infuriates me more that a great idea poorly executed.

    • mimitabu says:

      Re: Rollercoaster

      sorry to post yet a third time, but this comment reminds me really strongly of this relatively popular recent anime series, death note–a series which made me think of this journal.

      death note spoilers ahead, if anyone cares.

      the series is 39 episodes long, and is about a high schooler (who is out of college by the conclusion) who finds a “death note”, dropped into “the human world” by a “death god” for no reason in particular. “death notes” are notebooks such that if you write someone’s name in them and can picture that person’s face, they die. sillyish premise, yes.

      what makes the show so good, however, is the creators immediately pick up on the things you’re writing about in this journal, ie “what does the protagonist want?” the boy who finds the book is, very clearly, the protagonist, and what he wants is just as clear. he’s a well-liked overachiever who thinks that he’s too good for the world, so what he wants is: “justice to be brought to this world.”

      from these sw101 entries, i can hear you saying “what kind of want is that? it’s way too broad. what is his personal want?” but instead of addressing that, through the death note and its power, they manage to tell a personal story that is exactly about “bringing justice to the world.” funnily, by episode 2 or 3, the protagonist’s want shifts to “i want to create a just world, and rule it as its new god!”

      the speed at which narrative travels is really striking though… the protagonist immediately starts killing people, willfully lets the authorities know that the mysterious deaths of criminals are the work of a single individual, and not three episodes in we’re drawn into this elaborate game of murder, evasion of the authorities, and complicated plans to overthrow society and strike fear into the hearts of everyone in the entire world (that work, and work believably if you suppose that someone could murder people by writing their names in a book).

      the action picks up with the introduction of a genius investigator, and quickly becomes a cat and mouse game between the protagonist and the investigator. everything that happens between these two figures, every murder the protagonist commits, and even every interaction the protagonist experiences carries huge, consequential weight regarding what he wants and how he’s going to get it. as a result, the first 10 or so episodes of the series are thrilling.

      i make this comment in reply to’s though, because halfway through the series, the creators make one of the most outrageous (and catastrophic) narrative choices i think i’ve ever witnessed. i’ve tried to express my outrage at this to my anime-watching and non-anime-watching friends alike, but they don’t seem to get it.

      what happens is: with the genius investigator so hot on his trail, the protagonist sets up an elaborate scheme that involves him (the protagonist) losing his own memory and then regaining it over a year later, which will allow him to evade and ultimately kill the genius investigator–and we’re going to watch what happens during the amnesia year. i’m still kind of shocked into disbelief by this… the viewer is watching this thrilling game of chess between murderer and secret agent-type genius, and for about 10 episodes the writers decide “hey, you know what would make this better? IF WE ELIMINATE THE PROTAGONIST FOR THE NEXT 10 EPISODES!

      the tension deflates immediately, and you’re suddenly watching some confused asshole (the former-protagonist) and a genius detective who can’t make any progress at all. it’s mindblowing.

      i’m not sure if i’ve expressed fully the amazingly stupid choice made by the creator’s of death note, but this comment reminded me of it, and these scriptwriting entries really highlighted just what was so terrible about it.

      • mimitabu says:

        Re: Rollercoaster

        repeated apologies for spamming your journal with long rambling comments. i’ll try to hold back.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Rollercoaster

          No apologies necessary — it’s nice to see someone excited about structure.

          I haven’t seen Death Note, but it sounds interesting. And let me just say that the rules for long-form storytelling (like a TV series) are different from features. In a feature, the characters must demonstrably and irrevocably change from beginning to end, or else the audience feels cheated — they’ve been given something besides drama. However, television requires that the characters never change, or do so only very, very slowly. So the protagonist’s want can be something huge and unspecific, since it will take an unspecified number of episodes to achieve it.

          Death Note reminds me of Tomie, a series of Japanese horror movies that haven’t been remade in the US…yet. In Tomie, there’s this beautiful girl who is actually some kind of immortal evil spirit, and goes around latching onto luckless men, getting them to throw away their lives on her, then tossing them aside when they’re “broken.” The movies never quite explicate who exactly Tomie is or why she’s doing this, which makes it all the more creepy, much more creepy than if they said “Well, see, Tomie was a woman who lived in Hiroshima in 1945, and somehow the radiation from the atom bomb kept her young and healthy, and now she’s unable to die, and she’s going around killing people who she thinks are responsible for her death.”

          • greyaenigma says:

            Dramatic Universe

            Skipped the Death Note spoilers, as I hope to red/watch that some day. Although I must say my favorite TV shows do definitely have the characters change over time. I’m getting to be more of a fan of Joss Whedon’s now, especially since I watched the entire Firefly saga this week.

            The Tomie books actually do offer some (albeit conflicting) explanation of her origin. I do love me some Junji Ito. I said before about Cloverfield that I’d like know more about the backstory — and Abrams et al have wonderfuly provided that. While I didn’t know about it during the past year, there’s been the whole “game” just chock full of clues. Crazy, crazy details like the bios of the fictional people who hacked the fictional website for the fictional company that makes the fictional product that Rob might be moving to Japan for. Crazy. But very satisfying for those of us that like that sort of thing.

            You said above that “the audience doesn’t care”, which I disagree with. Certainly some, even the majority, of the audience may not care. And, it may not be dramatically significant, which seems to be your main point, and I can certainly agree with that. What the Cloverfield team has done is create a lovely, tight piece of drama, and then infused it with a ton of backstory and in-jokes which are a lot of fun to read, and probably a lot of fun to discover. I think it’s particularly brilliant to keep these separate, letting each appeal to the audience in the medium that suits them best. I do kind of wish that I’d known about all that stuff just as the movie ended, however. I was avoiding everything beforehand so as not to be spoiled.

            Finally, if you haven’t seen this before, I present: The Cloverfield Monster, by Hasbro.

          • adam_0oo says:

            Re: Rollercoaster

            Or, for a slightly more mainstream version of this, see the difference between Ring and Ring II, the second one continuing to explain explain explain, getting less interesting as we left the mystery behind.

            For an even more mainstream version, consider Boba Fett, and the difference between his 15 mins in the first three movies to his endless origin story in the next three. Mystery helps.

  2. mimitabu says:

    “Here’s the thing about “explaining the disaster”: the audience doesn’t care.”

    i’m not too interested in most of GCF’s criticisms (and in fact, i think more explanation and loose-end tying up is often much more insulting to moviegoers than pure chaos, so it’s hard for me to really get where the criticism is coming from)… but this quote is interesting.

    it’s interesting because i think it’s sort of true and false at the same time. i mean, it’s true from one way of taking the sentence, and false from another.

    regarding the action you’re seeing on screen (eg “there’s godzilla, he’s knocking down buildings, what’s going to happen!?”), i’m sure you’re right, the audience really doesn’t care where he came from. in fact, i suspect that GCF doesn’t care where he came from… he’s bothered by the nagging question of “what is this?” but in reality, if the answer was “it was a genetic accident” or “outer space” or any other stock answer, as long as the movie is engaging, i doubt he would have complained. an expectation was not fulfilled, but that’s about the extent of what bothers GFC, i suspect. in reality, no one really cares where the monster came from, ie no one needs the monster’s origins explained in order to care about what the monster’s doing now.

    but your quote is also false, i think, in that we care if the story of the monster’s origin just happens to be interesting. and this can work at least 2 ways… it could just be baldly interesting. i mean “what’s up with darth vader? why’s he breathe like that? darth vader is awesome, and i bet the story of his machine-becoming is one hell of a yarn!” kind of thing–though of course this did not pan out, but i don’t think it couldn’t have panned out… ep1-3 could have been mindblowing (and would any of the original star wars movies have been worse if obi wan or yoda took 10 minutes out of their time to tell us some really badass story about darth’s past? i don’t think so).

    or, the “backstory” can be interesting if it accomplishes something other than backstory. for example (and i know this isn’t a great example), if you can communicate something about a character via that character’s love of giving backstory, it can be interesting (because characters, and more precisely, strange character traits that can somehow be communicated by them loving to give backstory, are interesting). or (again, not too great an example) if you suddenly give backstory that is so jarring and unnecessary to the understanding of the action of the movie, it could be interesting, a la “hmm, what the hell is the writer doing here?” puzzle pieces are interesting, originality is interesting, playing with stuff that we all know is shit but saying “what about when i do it this way that you’ve never seen before?” is interesting.

    in other words, either a) the backstory is interesting b/c it itself is a good story–which of course has nothing to do with the current action; in other words, it’s good despite its lack of necessity, or b) the backstory is interesting for a wholly different reason than “i need to know where these characters are ‘coming from'” or even “(a) this is a good story”, ie it does some weird meta thing, or accomplishes something beyond “i know you, the viewer, just love to be fed exposition and trivia, so here’s some backstory!” (b) works even if the backstory is dull (which, i think you agree, is pretty likely).


    i guess to be concise, i’m saying that “explaining the disaster” is never necessary to the action, however “explaining the disaster” can be done in an interesting way–though pretty much only if it justifies its existence all on its own.

    • mimitabu says:

      my comment was too long for livejournal…

      now, i don’t think (b) above, or even (a) are good ideas, nor should they necessarily be included in a script, even if they’re compelling. ideally, the action of your movie shouldn’t be so dull that introducing a new story makes the viewer say “oh tell me more! i wasn’t really watching that other thing anyway.” and what i take to be the thrust of your quote is also strong: “if you think people need to know everything about John Character’s background to be interested in John Character’s actions, you have no idea what makes a movie interesting”. that being the case, i’d say the reason for including an “explanation of the disaster” better be really good, because one should know in advance that the valid reason for its inclusion won’t be “this will make you more interested in the drama of the movie”. hell, you may like james bond’s backstory (and thus come into the new bond movie wanting to care), and the new villain may have some deep motives that get you thinking days after you see the movie, but if the movie is “james bond’s dull, rehashed adventure featuring villian with extremely interesting origin” it’s going to be a bad movie.

    • Todd says:

      I have seen backstory done well — in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Every time Kill Bill would stop and go back in time I’d think “Sigh, this is going to drag,” and then it wouldn’t.

  3. curt_holman says:

    Cloverfield 2: This Time It’s Personal

    “I have to assume that there is something else about the movie that does not sit well with this rather vocal minority.”

    I meant to contribute to the Cloverfield discussion earlier. A lot of critics complained about how callow the characters are (at least at first), but that struck me as being deliberate and appropriate.

    To me, the whole idea that the characters would chose to “document” the going-away party is a little absurd: it treats something relatively insignificant as if it’s massively important. (Granted, it’s a nice gesture on the part of the friends.) When the monster strikes, however, the cameraman gets the opportunity to document something that really IS massively important. It’s like the way Rob realizes he loves the girl and vows to rescue her: the self-absorbed, shallow characters dedidicate themselves to meaningful causes in the teeth of disaster. Simple.

    It’s interesting that they’re talking about doing a Cloverfield 2. Apparently there are rumors that it will be from the point of view of someone else recording the same disaster from a different perspective, which seems like a missed opportunity. I think they could make a scary version with the same-POV gimmick by having someone going into the ruins of New York to figure out what happened.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Cloverfield 2: This Time It’s Personal

      It doesn’t seem absurd to me that Hud would be charged with documenting Rob’s going-away party. Apparently people these days would document just about anything. We’re living in the most documented generation in history.

      But I like your idea that, from Hud’s point of view, he’s suddenly found himself thrust into world history — he can’t turn off the camera, if he does, his life becomes meaningless. Which, in a sense, is the deeper theme of the movie; we relentlessly document our existences in the hope that it will somehow make it mean more.

      I will watch with some interest the development of a Cloverfield sequel. History suggests that the producers cannot help but screw it up, but J.J. Abrams has done dozens of episodes of Lost and has managed not to screw up that show’s premise.

  4. davejustus says:

    I think the thing that’s lost on GCF when he complains that we’re never given the origin of the creature is that the very nature of the movie — i.e., that it’s told entirely from a first-person, man-on-the-street point of view — does not allow for the origin to be revealed. Because none of the characters (or, if you please, even just Hud, who is our POV) would be privy to that information, we as the audience cannot be privy to it.

    Jumping, as Mr. Alcott notes, to a scene “where scientists and military commanders stand around in a dramatically-lit room and discuss, with furrowed brows, the science of the thing that’s wreaking havoc upon Manhattan” would, apart from being dull and unnecessary, be a cheat. Why would Hud be in that dramatically lit room? It would make no narrative sense that a civilian, a man on the street, would gain entry into any scenario where he (and through him, the audience) would gain knowledge of “the science of the thing.” When Hud and our heroes encounter the military (the closest we come to someone who might know the creature’s backstory), it’s clear that they have only a little more information than anyone else.

    Instead, any real information about the creature’s whereabouts or its possible origins would be, and are, gained via the television news. This is how the average man, the civilian, informs his own point of view. For my tastes, Hud, supposedly in a hurry, was allowed to linger even a bit too long on the newscast.

    What needs to be remembered is that the whole of the disaster takes place over roughly twelve hours… and what man on the street, in the first twelve hours of a crisis of this magnitude, is going to have a clear picture of the origins or motivations of the destructive force? Even information gleaned from the news reports during that window is largely conjecture. We didn’t know the names of the 9/11 terrorists within the first twelve hours. Why should Hud and his civilian buddies (and thus, the audience) learn anything, in twelve hours of abject terror, to satisfy the questions of where the creature came from or why it’s doing what it’s doing? Answer: They shouldn’t. Because they don’t care. They want to survive. Parsing your enemy’s motivation serves very little purpose if, in so doing, you forfeit your life.

    • Todd says:

      In all honesty, I thought that Act III of the movie was going to be that they rescue Beth from the building, get cornered by the monster, and somehow they would learn just enough about it to kill it. And that the camera would have something to do with it.

      I think they went with the classier — and more daring — choice.

      • davejustus says:

        Huh. I never would have considered that scenario, and man, I’d have been disappointed if they’d gone that direction. To be honest, the movie played out very much along the lines that I thought it would, given the whole “government property” and “area formerly known as Central Park” stamps at the beginning. In fact, I was a little surprised that anyone in our group of protagonists was allowed to live (presuming that Lily did, indeed, make it out of Manhattan).

        It seems clear that, at some point between the events filmed and our viewing of them, something stopped the creature. But if the people we’d been following for 80 minutes just happened to be the ones who defeated a 30-story-tall big bad, it would have felt awfully contrived to me. Definitely classier this way, definitely more daring, and definitely more in line with my guesses for the ending as I was watching.

        As an aside, and further to the idea that the man on the street knows little to nothing… I love that I have no idea why the movie is called Cloverfield.

        • Todd says:

          This has come up before, and it seems to me pretty clear that “Cloverfield” is just the military intelligence’s code name for the big bad monster operation.

        • popebuck1 says:

          “Cloverfield” is the Santa Monica freeway exit that the head writer passes every day on his way to the studio. It was the code name for the movie back when it was ultra-top-secret, and then nobody came up with a more likely title – that, and the filmmakers realized everyone now knew their movie as “Cloverfield” anyway, so renaming it would do more harm than good.

      • adam_0oo says:

        Wow, I forgot about this kind of thing, that is EXACTLY what happens in all monster movies. In fact, I think thats why alot of people were shouting at the screen as the movie ended. They expected some kind of final showdown between the monster and the main characters. Most people couldn’t get over the fact that the monster was a background character that didn’t care about the main characters at all.

  5. I have to assume that there is something else about the movie that does not sit well with this rather vocal minority.

    Yes, what is it about this movie that is making everyone bust out ther highest horse and say ridiculous things? What I’ve taken away so far is there are a lot of people who fancy themselves film scholars who really just have extremely rigid ideas about what a movie should do, and they get really pissed when a movie doesn’t do them and is praised anyway.

    I loved it, here’s why:

    It explores “just disaster” in exactly the same way that most people experience it — frightening, chaotic and completely meaningless.

    Exactly. It wasn’t until after seeing the movie that I saw some of the marketing that went into this, and seeing it and the extra context it provides has detracted from the movie, a little bit.

  6. moroccomole says:

    Not only is GCF utterly wrong about Cloverfield, and not only does he make the mistake of judging a film’s worth by box-office statistics, but he also commits the unpardonable sin of using “it’s” when he means “its.”

    • greyaenigma says:

      Exactly what I was thinking.

    • Todd says:

      Well, I often made the same mistake well into my 30s and I’m a professional writer, so, given that GCF was obviously in a heated mood when he wrote the response, I decided to let it slide.

      I also used to habitually type “definately.”

  7. jake82 says:

    Since you’re bringing this up again, I feel obligated to restate my point, which I feel is valid, unlike concerns over the origin of the monster:

    While Cloverfield may not be designed to explore emotional complexities as thoroughly as something like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it is innately a character study, way more than it is an action film or monster movie. What we’re seeing on screen 90% of the time is the reactions of a small group of characters to an unexplained disaster going on outside, or upstairs. Occasionally something will blow up, some giant bugs will attack them in the subway, and so forth, to keep us from falling asleep– but the movie is really about these characters and how they deal with what’s happening.

    And that’s why it sucks: the characters are boring, flat, and almost nothing they do or say is remotely interesting. It’s not like I wanted some pointless exposition explaining their histories and the story behind Rob’s Japan trip– I just wanted them to do something three-dimensional, act like real humans instead of characters in a screenplay. After all, that is the premise of the film– a monster movie via reality tv/youtube, where nothing is mediated by cinema conventions– there are no obligations to satiate an audience by crafting boring characters who do nothing to upset their audience.

    Like you said in your response to my original comment: “the whole point of the ‘handsome prince’ model of protagonist is that the audience is able to project themselves onto his actions” — how boring! Especially when the film pretends to not care about its audience’s visceral desires– no, it’s “real”– by refusing to give us a remotely steady shot throughout the 72 minutes.

    They chickened out, when they should have thrown some halfway interesting character decisions our way. Have you ever seen the nuclear disaster movie Miracle Mile? Our ordinarily passive, friendly hero carjacks a stereo thief’s convertible, and later bursts into a cardio class, threatening everyone with a pistol in desperate search of a helicopter pilot. In order to escape from a sticky situation, the aforementioned car thief (who we’re also lead to identify with) douses a couple of cops with gasoline, who then burst into flames after shooting their guns. And we feel sick about it. Couldn’t they have put at least some hint of moral ambiguity in Cloverfield? I mean, no one even says the “f-word” during this whole affair– they just do exactly what they’re supposed to do, as outlined in the PG-13 action movie hero handbook.

    • Todd says:

      I loved Miracle Mile. And so did, I suspect, the makers of Cloverfield (since they pinched its third act).

      The only thing I would add to your reasoned response is that “the PG-13” handbook was written by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the protagonist has to deal with de facto fatherhood, a horny shiksa, bloodthirsty Thugees and his own propensity for evil.

      I suppose Rob in Cloverfield could have undertaken similar crises, and I’ll admit that the character complexities of Cloverfield do not compare to the character complexities of, say, Persona, but I think that Cloverfield does what it does with great skill and dexterity.

  8. chmmr says:

    So, something that’s been bugging me about Cloverfield in light of your Screenwriting 101 posts:

    Who is the antagonist, and what do they want?

    The obvious answer to the first part would be, “the Monster”. And if his role is just to put the characters into a chaotic, random death situation, then maybe that’s all he needs to want.

    On a really micro level though, it did ruin my suspension of disbelief just a bit that every time the monster appeared, he just appeared to be milling about aimlessly. I didn’t get any sense of purpose, even an inscrutable alien one. He fell into the classic trap of “feeling like a special effect” because he was just a prop to set the humans in motion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree completely that if they spelled anything out in exposition or dialog, it would have ruined everything.

    Next time you watch the film though, look at the few shots where they really show the monster, and ask “what does he want?” Even a wild animal wants something (unless it’s rabid?)

    • Todd says:

      The mystery of the monster’s motivation does rob the narrative of Cloverfield of some common sense, but it greatly increases the horror, which I think is good for a horror movie. Think of how much more terrifying a character like Freddie Kruger would be if he had no backstory — if he was merely this scary burnt guy with razors for fingers. He would be frightening and unpredictable and impossible to rationalize.

      But you raise an interesting question — who is the antagonist of Cloverfield? Because the monster, while it is something in Rob’s way of achieving the goal, does not know who Rob is or care anything one way or the other about his goal.

      The Cloverfield monster is, now that I think of it, more like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead — they’re unpleasant, but they have nothing specific against the protagonist. They’re more like a weather condition that keeps the characters locked in the house and bring the drama to a boil. If the monster is, essentially, the moral equivalent of Romero’s zombies (or the upside-down ship in The Poseidon Adventure for that matter) the antagonist in Cloverfield would be Rob himself, and his hesitation to tell Beth how he feels. Which would make Rob both a protagonist and antagonist, its primary struggle internal, and Cloverfield a drama about a man trying to overcome his shortcomings to better himself.

      Holy cow! Cloverfield just became more interesting than I thought it was!

  9. urbaniak says:

    And how about The Birds? No explanation of what it is that’s destroying Bodega Bay. No explanation of how it got there. Nothing. Just disaster! Had Hitchcock even seen Godzilla?!

  10. teamwak says:

    Just come back from seeing it. Mainly so I can read your blog again in peace 😉

    It was very good! I shall leave the script disection to those who know better than me.

    The tunnel chase was terrifying!