In my last post I had a big rant about open endings and leaving questions unanswered. A couple of days after that I watched Cloverfield, a film notorious for leaving its audience guessing and one which I remember very much dividing opinion at the time of its release. I went in to it expecting to come out much the same as I did with Prometheus, but actually I was pleasantly surprised.
Cloverfield manages to do what Prometheus failed at: keep a sense of mystery and intrigue without being entirely frustrating. We may never be explicitly told where the monster came from, but we’re given enough hints during the film to be able to come up with our own ideas, just like the characters in the film itself have to. It’s this factor which is so crucially missing from Prometheus. It’s fine to leave questions open for your audience to answer, but you need to give them something to work with. Cloverfield famously had the viral campaign which took place months before it’s release, setting up a variety of fake websites, companies and advertisements to give clues as to what was behind the film. I missed all of that, and yet I was still able to piece together what I think was supposed to be going on. Just like with Prometheus, I also hit the blogs and message boards to find out stuff I might have missed, but while with the former I mainly found rants of confusion and half guessed theories, for Cloverfield there were obvious clues within the film and virals that gave the answers I was looking for.
Enough comparing it to Prometheus. The film itself is so much better than I had given it credit for that I feel the need to talk it up a bit. The Blair Witch style hand held camera work is often an issue for a lot of filmgoers, but I really liked it in Cloverfield. It put the audience right in there with the action, including us in the group and making everything more real. It’s the realism of Cloverfield that is its greatest strength. No mean feat for a film about a giant monster from who-knows-where going on a rampage through New York. It’s basically Godzilla from ground level, and while that means the plot is hardly something new, the story is told in a very new way. We’re so used to seeing how America saves the world in these situations that it was really intriguing to see it from a much smaller perspective for once. While Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were uploading Mac compatible viruses in Independence Day, it’s very unlikely that your average Joe on the street had a clue what was going on. They were just scared, confused and trying to survive, which is the story that Matt Reeves is telling.
The cast of relative unknowns are all strong. I liked that our hero Rob didn’t suddenly become excessively strong/emotionally stable/develop superpowers as is often the case with Average Joe heroes in disaster movies. And while the female characters did fulfill the industry standard of crying a lot, they weren’t just sobbing eye candy. I also likes the odd interjections of black humour from camera man Hud, who is perhaps the most real character of them all. While we rarely see his face, his continual monologue reflects how most of us (if we’re honest)would react if a giant lizard thing suddenly started picking off our friends and throwing bits of the Statue of Liberty at us.
aA for the monster itself, it’s a well known fact that as soon as you reveal the Big Bad you’ve lost your tension. The mechanical Jaws was nowhere near as scary as the one we were picturing in our heads; so I was surprised that we got to see what the internet affectionately call “Clover” so early on in the film. And yeah, she does look like Godzilla, but no matter how much they worked on that design, it was always going to be compared to Godzilla, so we can’t really blame them for that. There’s only so many half-believable giant lizard things you can come up with. Anyway, this film isn’t really about the Big Bad, it’s about the people, and that’s what it does so well. It’s a small band of friends just trying to get through this with no attempts to take it on single handedly and save the universe, the same simple idea that made Shaun of the Dead so successful.
There is a wodnerful attention to detail in Cloverfield too. The film runs at 80 minutes, the length of a standard video tape, andis littered with subliminal imagery from other monster films and the aforementioned viral campaign. It’ll definitely take a couple of watches to catch them all.
If like me, you ignored Cloverfield due to the backlash it received, maybe now is the time to check it out. Especially if you’re feeling let down by Prometheus, because as far as I’m concerned, this is a much better thriller, with both a sense of scale and claustrophobia, and capturing ambiguity in a way that Ridley Scott failed so spectacularly at.
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I’m not going to add anything to the interwebs by writing a review of Prometheus saying it was disappointing. There is an overwhelming feeling of “meh” from pretty much every direction. So instead I figured I’d share some thoughts (not all of them are mine) on why its turning into one of the biggest let down movies of the year. (There are spoilers so this is your warning.)
I think the biggest problem is it doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. Is it a straight up Sci-Fi/Action movie? Or a more deep evaluation of the origins of humanity? Or a prequel to Alien? Apparently Ridley Scott thought he could pull off all three at once. Turns out he can’t. In fact, of the many unfinished parallel plotlines, the only one which felt like it had any sense of completeness was the brief hints to being an Alien precursor, which for some reason was repeatedly denied during the films early promo…
There are a lot of characters in Prometheus. A lot. Standard set up for a film where you need a lot of Red Coats to kill off, but the only characters with any kind of development were Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s much hyped David. Having said that though, Shaw is nothing more than Ripley with a different name, and while Fassbender makes a very convincing slightly sinister robot, there’s nothing new there, and his motives were entirely confusing. We were left trying to work out if he was infecting people with toxic alien sludge (‘cos that’s a thing) for some higher purpose, following orders from above or just a randomly evil robot…
As for the other characters, Charlize Theron is completely wasted, and the plot “twist” involving her and her not-so-dead Dad is just thrown away, leaving me wondering why they bothered to have it in the first place. The rest of the characters are disposed of with little ceremony, and are fairly indistinguishable so there isn’t much impact; it’s all just a bit formulaic.
Enough moaning about character development, on to my other pet peeve: bad Science.
Dear God there is some bad Science in this film! I’m fairly sure Ridley Scott has no basic understanding of Biology. Obviously, I’m not expecting perfect theses from films, but there’s a “Sci” in front of the “Fi” for a reason and genetic disease doesn’t suddenly manifest and make you act like you caught the Rage Virus. Just Saying.
Also, how does the black slime that went into Charlie’s Mouth end up with a worm in his eye and a squid in his wife? And DNA doesn’t just float about in the middle of cells. And you can’t point at someone who is acutely ill and say “it’s not contagious, this is genetic.”
No, wait a minute, one more thing: you poke a dead brain in the locus coeruleus and it comes back to life?!? Seriously?!
All of the above could potentially be forgiven though if the film had some good set piece action sequences and a coherent plot. But it doesn’t. The plot is so full of holes it makes a more convincing Swiss cheese than a movie. It’s one of those films where the more you think about it, the more things you find that just don’t make sense. Most frustrating of all though is the lack of resolution. I have a big problem with open-ended movies which leave questions just for the sake of it. It’s what me and my sister refer to as a “Ninth Gate” in reference to one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen which as far as I can tell just stops for no reason. Probably because it was just getting embarrassing and the production crew thought they might as well quit while they were behind.. Films like Inception use their open endings to keep the audience thinking, but Prometheus keeps lining up big questions and then not answering them. I’ve already said that Charlize Theron’s relationship with her father is wasted, and there are other little plot lines that are opened and then never closed, but the most frustrating of all is the reveal that the “Engineers” decided to wipe out the human race but never letting us know why. I know he’s left that open deliberately but why? What does it add to the film?
It starts out with the crew trying to understand their origins and wanting to literally meet their makers. OK, with you so far. Turns out the aliens all got wiped out by some mysterious thing which they handily captured on holographic candid camera so that people could find it and think it was a good idea to go into the room full of dead guys…right I can just about buy that. But when the humans work out that the aliens were killed by their own biological weapon which was meant for them it all gets a bit vague. The one surviving alien is woken up and decided to go on a one man killing spree to take out all the humans before setting off to complete his mission of destroying every living thing on Earth. Cos he can. The fact that his entire crew have been killed by the toxic sludge/wormy guys doesn’t at all make him think twice about setting off in a spaceship filled with the stuff. Sure that will work out just fine. And while we’re at it, if you want to wipe out a race that you created, why would you choose to do it by creating another race which is equally capable of wiping you out? These alien dudes did not think it through….
And all of that is before you start asking yourself why the guy at the beginning drank the black stuff to kill himself….and why when he had it he just dissolved, whereas Charlie looked like his veins were trying to explode out of his face and Fifield went all 28 days later….And are the snakey things that came out of the black water different to whatever is in that black sludge….And…???
See what I’m getting at? The more you think about it the less makes sense. It feels like an unfinished film because there are just so many questions, but it’s a long film, so it’s not like they don’t have time to answer them. I wonder if maybe he was holding out for a sequel (there are about a bajillion Alien films, so I wouldn’t put it past him) but I have no idea where he’d go with it, other than to just have someone stand there for two hours and explain all the bits that made no sense.
So that’s what went wrong with Prometheus. It was massively hyped up but it doesn’t deliver. It’s trying too hard to be everything at once when all we really wanted (if we’re honest) was another Alien. A Sci-Fi thriller with some scary looking creatures and a girl running around in her pants. We actually get all of that in Prometheus but it’s so buried under all the extra fluff that’s trying to make it not look like Alien that it doesn’t work. Ridley Scott should have stuck to what he knew.
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