“It’s a lion!”

With the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane less than a week away it is officially Kaiju Week here at The Movie Cafe. Leading up to the release of the film I’m going to be doing various Kaiju related articles starting with a retrospective of a movie close to my heart: Cloverfield.

I love Kaiju (re: giant monster) movies. As a little kid I collected a ton of Godzilla toys and enjoyed all the cheesy Japanese monster movies.It was due to that obsession I had as a kid that got me really excited for the original Cloverfield. Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams stated that his inspiration for the project came from when he visited Japan with his son, and saw all the different Godzilla memorabilia every where, and big of a cultural icon he was for Japan. J.J. wanted America to have their own definitive monster, so he sought out to create his own. Just as Godzilla was influenced by Japan’s experience and cultural identity with the atomic bomb, Cloverfield was directly influenced by 9/11. There are scenes in the movie that are unmistakably evocative of the real life events of 9/11, and it helps give Cloverfield its american identity, just as Godzilla has its Japanese identity.

The viral marketing campaign is still one of the best I have ever seen, using the fictional deep sea oil drilling company Tagruato, its subsidiary Slusho (you can’t drink just six!) and the mysterious addictive sea bed nectar to tell a story that serves as backstory for Cloverfield as interesting as the movie itself. This added a lot of interesting lore and mystery to Cloverfield, and really helped increase the enjoyment of the movie without making it required knowledge.

Part of the allure of the film was the mystery to it. Up to release, no one really knew what exactly the film was about. Was it a Godzilla movie? Was it a Voltron movie (the infamous “its a lion!” theory)? What was the Cloverfield monster? These were all questions everyone was asking up to release, scouring over each piece of lore that was released in the ARG (alternate reality game) hoping to gain a better idea to what Cloverfield was, and what Tagruato’s relation to the Cloverfield monster (who from henceforth will be referred to as Mr. Grump Pants, or MGP).

While all of the marketing helped create an interesting world for Cloverfield to exist in, almost none of it ended up being referenced in the film, besides a Slusho t-shirt, and the unnamed company that the main character, Rob, worked for actually being Slusho. This didn’t take away from the film though. For those who knew nothing about the lore outside of the film, it was still an entertaining monster movie. For those who did, it provided a ton of fan speculation and theories that are still going on to this today about what exactly is going on in the Cloverfield universe.

After re-watching the film I have to say it still holds up well to repeat viewings. For a blockbuster film it is pretty short, clocking in at under an hour and a half. This works in the film’s benefit however. Due to it being a found footage film, if the film was overly long it would have been very easy for the film to become exhausting to watch to the nature of the genre. The short run time allowed the film to tell a simple, punchy story about a group of people trying to survive a giant monster attack.

I remember there being a lot of complaints about how little of MGP there actually was in the movie, but after re-watching it I still think those complaints are BS. Cloverfield took a page out of the Jaws playbook, showing small glimpses of the monster throughout the film to help build tension and increase the fear factor of the movie. There is never a full, clear shot of Mr. Grumpy Pants in the film. You may see a leg here, a tail there, a glimpse of its face as it attacks a group of soldiers, but never a detailed look at MGP. That is left a mystery for the most part.

Speaking of Mr. Grumpy Pants, I have to say I absolutely love his design. So much so that I consider MGP to be one of my favorite Kaiju. It is one of the more unique monster designs I have seen in a movie, he’s very amphibious looking and it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into making MGP look like he actually lived in the sea and helps give a bit of credibility to the monster. It’s not realistic by any means, but the logic that went into the design helps it feel believable. The concept behind MGP centered on the fact that he was a baby Kaiju, and had the mentality of a scared animal experiencing separation anxiety, rampaging through New York, and I think that is personified in his design. MGP is able to look intimidating and somewhat sympathetic at the same time. Mr. Grumpy Pants is just a scared leel (Cloverfeels lingo is contagious) baby…who eats people and decapitates famous statues.

The film incorporates a lot of dry humor through its cast during the horrific events that occur. I’m a big T.J. Miller fan, so to experience Cloverfield through his eyes as Hud was a good creative decision. He isn’t the main character or driving force of the film by any means, but he provides levity in dire circumstances of the film, which makes his amazing death scene that much more effective when it happens (I’ll touch more on this in a bit). The primary plot thread of the film revolves around Rob navigating this monster attack to find and save Beth, the love of his life, and tell her how he feels. Its a straightforward story that gives context to our group of characters exploring New York, and helps give narrative weight to their struggles. While its not the reason people watched Cloverfield, it was successful enough in getting people to care about the characters in the film and their respective fates. It’s simple, it’s understandable, it works.

After Rob and co. find and save Beth, they finally attempt to escape the city. From here on the film is pretty much nonstop Grumpy Pants action, as their is a race against time for our heroes to evacuate via helicopter while an attack is going on around them. It is during this time that we get our best looks at MGP, as we see him from the view of a helicopter as he is rampaging through the city and being bombed. After a moment of triumph, Mr. Grump Pants swats the helicopter out of the sky, sealing the fate of those aboard.

It is here where we get out money shot of Mr. Grumpy Pants in one of the best scenes in the film. After the crash, Rob, Hud, and Beth all exit the crashed helicopter and find themselves directly below MGP. Hud comes face to face with monster, as the camera maintains eye contact for a solid couple of seconds, before MGP lashes out and eats Hud. This scene is so well done, due to the fact that we have experienced the entire film as Hud, and now we are experiencing a first person view of being eaten alive by a giant Kaiju. I can’t think of a better send off for a character in a monster movie. Its gruesome, its personal, and the way it played with camera perspective just made this scene brilliant.

The film wraps itself up fairly quickly after this scene, as Rob and Beth retreat under a bridge to take cover from the upcoming bombings, and their fates, along with Mr. Grumpy Pants, are left frustratingly ambiguous. The final shot of the film is a flashback to Rob and Beth at Coney Island, and a glimpse of a mysterious object is scene crashing into the ocean. There is still speculation as to what exactly it was. Most believe it was Tagruato satellite, tying into the ARG, and is what caused Mr. Grumpy Pants to become active and attack. Many believe it’s MGP itself, and with the newest ARG for 10 Cloverfield Lane incorporating a lot of outer space elements, the idea that he is an alien may have some credibility. Whatever it is, it is left a mystery, just like a lot of the elements of the Cloverfield universe.

I’m eagerly awaiting to see how much of (if any) this is tied into the newest foray into the Cloverfield world. Even if we don’t get to see Mr. Grumpy Pants again, I’m still looking forward to it.

And there you have it! My retrospective/overview of the original Cloverfield. What are everyone else’s opinions on this monster movie? Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

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