Balls, Gimmicks, A Meta-Universe, And Balls: Peter Talks About Cloverfield
Peter Tatara - January 18, 2008
When I walked out of the Transformers movie last summer, I had already thankfully forgotten about most of the preceding two hours. In fact, the only part of the experience that resonated with me wasn't part of the movie at all. It was a trailer. It had explosions, people screaming, and even more stuff blowing up. All pretty normal cinematic fair. In fact, what made this trailer so interesting, so compelling, wasn't what it contained. Instead, it was what it lacked. The trailer didn't have a title. After all the fireballs and buildings toppling down, it cut to the release date, then cut to black. Who releases a trailer without a title? The gimmick was so simple -- but so brilliant. I have a few years of experience in various marketing departments across the entertainment industry under my belt, and -- I know -- if I had pitched that idea, it would have been killed instantly. Whoever got that trailer released without a title has balls. Big balls. Stones the size of Mount Rushmore. I want to meet him, shake his hand, and compliment the size of his testicles.
And, as I'm talking to the dude responsible for the Cloverfield trailer, I want to ask him about the gents who designed the movie's marketing campaign and ask if their gonads are as big as his -- or even larger. Just as Cloverfield's trailer was based around a brilliantly executed gimmick, so was its entire promotion. Leading up to the movie, how'd fans find out information? Through byzantine, abstract games buried in the source code of seemingly benign, unrelated websites. Rather than coming out plainly with any information about the movie, everything that was Cloverfield was candidly trickled out through slusho.jp, tagruato.jp, tidowave.com, and jamieandteddy.com. The man who made this happen has rocks that dwarf the moon. What if no one found Cloverfield's obscure websites? What if no one cared? Everyone cared. The team behind Cloverfield knew their audience and their so, so simple gimmick worked. Perfectly.
Did I spent the past six months reading up on contents of fictitious Japanese soft drinks in the hopes I'd gleam some semblance of a hint of a whisper about Cloverfield? No, I have a girlfriend; however, I did love watching friends who devoted their every waking moment to discovering something -- anything -- about this movie.
And then, before I knew it, it was today. Cloverfield premiered. It almost took me by surprise, as I could have easily gone with a few more months of fan-baiting, and -- to be honest -- as much as I enjoyed the buildup, I was secretly afraid of the thing. While I'm in love with the gonads of everyone responsible for marketing the movie, with just about everything I'd been excited about recently -- including I Am Legend, Beowulf, and the aforementioned Transformers -- turning out to be crap, I was bracing myself for a titanic letdown when Cloverfield finally hit the screen. I didn't want Cloverfield to suck. And it didn't.
Bigger than any of the balls I've salivated over above are those of the man responsible for Cloverfield. JJ Abrams's testicles clearly have their own gravitation field.
Cloverfield is a simple movie. A monster attacks New York. We see it from the view of a group of New Yorkers trying to flee. We don't see the generals ordering air strikes on the monster. We don't see the scientists hypothesizing the origin of the thing. No, we see it from the raw, unedited, shaking video of some dudes just trying to live. Just like everything leading up to Cloverfield, the movie, too, is all based around a single gimmick, and again it works. Cloverfield is daring. Cloverfield is about experience.
Everything leading up to the film and everything in the movie itself is about making the audience a part of its experience. All of the film's tricks have made it so those watching Cloverfield are not just watchers -- they're active participants. Starting with its untitled trailer and through to all its circuitous marketing, Cloverfield has created conversation. It's made its audience involved. It's made its audience a part of its world. But what if you didn't care? What if you didn't make tagruato.jp your homepage? I sure as hell didn't, and I was immediately enthralled.
The first-person point-of-view won me instantly and entirely.
The last movie I saw that genuinely scared me was Dog Soldiers, a 2002 British film about a squad of soldiers coming face to fur with a family of werewolves. The movie's smart, well written, well paced, and -- just like Cloverfield -- daring. Why? There isn't a drop of CGI in the film. All of its werewolves were guys in suits. Why? The team behind Dog Soldiers believed that when you see a computer-generated monster, your first reaction isn't "I'm scared!" or "That's terrifying!" No, they believed -- and I believe, too -- when you see a CG monster, you think "Wow, that's good CG!" or "Wow, that CG is horrible!" When presented with a CG creation, an educated audience's reaction is analytical rather than guttural. And, so, Dog Soldiers was made with guys in suits -- grotesque, stunning, beautiful suits. Their werewolves were physical. Their werewolves were real. Their werewolves were terrifying.
Cloverfield terrified me, too. While, yes, its beast was CG, because you're not sitting in the comfort of your seat, because you're in New York City as it's being smashed the shit up, you're not analyzing how good or not good the monster looks -- you're fucking unnerved and at times sick with fear. Cloverfield is about experience. Watching Cloverfield, I did not feel safe. I did not know what was going to happen next, where the story was going to go, and where things were going to end up. The movie's journey is expansive, disturbing, and very real, and I was with the gang of New Yorkers trying to survive.
Cloverfield was filmed on New York City's streets, streets that I know and have walked down. To see a monster grind these very real streets to dust made me feel something in my stomach. I wasn't critiquing the CG -- I was scared. From the Statue of Liberty to Central Park, I witnessed the destruction of Manhattan. Block by block, with imagery that touches upon what was burned into every American's brain on September 11, 2001, I saw Manhattan fall, and as nauseating and distressing as it was -- framed in the context of a monster movie, it was fun and I wanted more.
Here, I should reveal a personal bias. I'm a New Yorker. I love fantastical movies about New York City. I believe every inhabitant of NYC should own Gangs of New York, and I would have been satisfied if I Am Legend was two hours of Will Smith driving around an abandoned, desolated Manhattan.
Clearly, I liked Cloverfield. So, as so many have proffered, is it the best monster movie ever? Dunno. It's hard to compare it to a Godzilla or a Host. It's unique. It's bold. It clearly re-invigorates and re-imagines the genre and was made by a man with nads that could block out the sun. As an experience, it's terrific and terrifying. But, personally, while it wraps up the main characters' arcs, it doesn't finish New York's -- or the monster's. I want to know where the monster came from. I want to know it and New York City's fates. A lot can be inferred from the movie's first and final shots, but I'm still hungry for more. But should I even take issue with this? Even more, shouldn't I say that this wanting of a cathartic release proves that Cloverfield works? I didn't follow the clues leading up to the film, but now that I've seen it, I want to know the larger story beyond the videotape. For the first time, I'm reading tagruato.jp. I want to assemble the pieces of the puzzle. Cloverfield isn't just a movie. It's the entire experience spread across the meta-universe of its invention. The actual film is only a part of Cloverfield's experience, and I guarantee it isn't the end.