Pondering Cloverfield: What It Means for MovieBank and Quantum

by Michael SellersCloverfieldWell, like just about everybody else, I’ve been following the netbuzz about Cloverfield and wondering whether this would launch the film (think “300”) or kill it (“Snakes on a Plane”). So I lined up with wife and a couple of 17 year old guinea pigs in tow and went to see it yesterday – DLP version at a packed house theater in beautiful downtown Burbank.More…..I was thinking about it not just as a film-goer or a film-maker, but also in a more entrepreneurial way, trying to be alert to what this new approach to film narrative could mean for MovieBank and Quantum as the studios and the indies try to grapple with this.First, some visceral notes. By now there’s a ton of talk about the vertigo-inducing chaky camera. For the record, the two 17 year olds quit eating their popcorn about 10 minutes into the movie and my wife says she would have walked out except it was cold outside and she was in short sleeves, so she soldiered on rather than walking home. Also, a few people walked out and at the end of the show a gaggle of AMC employees and customers were gathered around somebody who had either passed out, thrown up, or both.I mention all of that because the shaky-cam didn’t really bother me at all or cause me any distress, and in fact I found it quite compelling as a technique. This is the fourth film I’ve seen shot this way — the others are Blair Witch, September Tapes, and Welcome to the Jungle — and is by far the best, not because of the technique or its execution, but rather because the good old fashioned cinematic underpinnings were just that much better. As monster movies go — the script was better, fresher, and more compelling than anything out there recently, and the characters were nicely drawn and appealing.By now everybody knows the basic outline of the story –at the start we are given to understand that what we’re seeing is a recovered tape from a pro-sumer video cam found in the “former Central Park”. As the tape rolls, we see a bunch of NY Partygoers who are in the midst of revelry when all hell breaks loose as a monster that makes Godzilla look like a piker attacks New York. At first they’re just trying to escape with everyone else — but when they get a cell call from one of their number trapped in a midtown apartment, they decide to go back and attempt to rescue her as the clock ticks forward on a government decision to “Hammer Down” on New York as it becomes increasingly apparent nothing short of flattening Manhatten will stop the creature.As I write this, it’s Sunday morning and it looks like Cloverfield is headed for a record January opening of around $41M (probably $55m including MLK Day Monday), and the user ratings and comments on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes are mostly favorable — and even the mainstream critics are giving it a qualified thumbs up. I think this adds up to it being nothing short of a major hit in the $200M US Domestic Box Office range….so we are clearly talking about an event and possibly something that has not only hit a responsive chord with the target audience, but may have actually defined a new “genre”, or at least a new storytelling technique that has its roots in Blair Witch but has found full expression in Cloverfield. That technique doesn’t have name yet — but is basically the idea that what we the audience are seeing is the casual non-professional home video style recording of events which get out of hand and ultimately rise to the level of “people will want to see this” — and which ends with the demise of all concerned, and only the tape survives.It seems to me that this technique is not going to just e a stunt that we see every few years. I think that the technique is actually quite a versatile one that has about as much validity in today’s YouTube culture as traditional narrative techniques. In an era when everyone has a video camera or a cell-phone, when news agencies such as CNN rely heavily on consumer “iReports” from breaking news environments, why not tell a story this way?The bottom line: It works.

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~ by Michael D. Sellers on January 20, 2008.

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