When I was a kid, one of the most important times of the year was “Monster Week” on the “4:30 Movie.” I’d come home from school and ruin my eyes watching Godzilla, Mothra, Monster Zero and that flying turtle Gamera fight for truth, justice and the Japanese way. Maybe that’s why I have a weakness for movies about city-demolishing beasties.
I also have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to highfalutin cineasts deciding which films are culturally significant and which ones aren’t. Sometimes this is a legitimate judgment. While the mise-en-scene in “Weekend at Bernie’s II” is undeniably provocative, one can be forgiven for not looking too deeply for messages about the role of the proletariat therein.
Other times, the practice of declaring a film unserious or juvenile is an attempt to validate one political or artistic vision at the expense of others. When critics proclaim that a movie like, say, “Brokeback Mountain” is deeply profound, they may be right, but some of their conviction is undoubtedly drawn from the fact that they agree with its overall message.
With all that in mind, you can imagine how excited I was to see “Cloverfield,” the monster movie filling theaters across the country (warning: spoilers ahead). As many have noted, it’s sort of “The Blair Witch Project” meets “Godzilla.” A bunch of vacuous twenty-something hipster doofuses are at a party in Lower Manhattan when a critter that looks like a cross between Godzilla and a praying mantis attacks the city. The whole movie is shot from the vantage point of the most doofussy of the doofuses, who carries around a very bouncy camera and films everything that’s going on. My movie theater actually posted a sign warning that the visual effects may induce nausea or vertigo.
The film mostly succeeds in making you feel like you’re watching all of the crunching and munching unfold in front of you (the video is supposed to have been found by the military at some point in the future). The technique is less plausible than in “The Blair Witch Project” but believable enough for you to want to shout, “Turn off the dang camera and run!”
The response from many critics, particularly Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, has been dismissive. It’s “Godzilla” for the MySpace generation and nothing more. Rightly noting the superficial insubstantiality of the hipsters, Dargis quips, “Rarely have I rooted for a monster with such enthusiasm.”