I saw Cloverfield last week. I wasn't very impressed, and the more I've thought about it, the less I like it. Although, to be fair, it was enjoyable. Aside from the motion sickness. My collected opinions:
As a piece of drama, it pretty much falls flat on its face because it wants -- boy howdy, and how -- to be a character piece, but it's built as a melodrama. It's so completely and utterly based on plot that there is only some cheap, perfunctory character development or conflict. It bumps along fueled by cliches. All its best moments are direct rip-offs of other movies.
It feels like the movies own instincts lean towards wanting it to be a monster movie, and its instincts are right. The characters are whiny and dull and worse, completely predictable, so the vaguely defined and (for most of the film) vaguely seen monsters are far more interesting. This wouldn't be a problem if it settled down into melodrama. You don't expect the characters to be interesting then, and it's a relief to see them act they way you expect. Here, it's a cheap let down.
But the monsters in the "character movie" idea of the film that keeps trying to assert itself are just a means to an end, which is why in both you see so comparatively little of them, despite how intriguing they are. Appropriately, as they eat up the characters, they were the mechanics to initiate a vaguely sadistic audience to watch the characters break down. We eat them up, too.
And towards the end, even the physics of the world begins to break down. Characters become like cartoons: "oh look, they popped up *again* after being knocked down"; they /explode/ for ill-defined reasons; the camera stands up against every attack (including a nuke) and the battery lasts forever.
Well, I think it's illustrative of my biggest criticism of the movie: it /wants/ to be about the characters, yet one of them explodes -- explodes! -- and no one says much about it. (I know, they can't, they're too busy... that's the problem.)
You don't need every story point (Not plot point, and there's a big difference there, and this movie has noooo problem with the plot) explained, and there is a suspension of disbelief. But that can't be tortuously stretched and has to be internally consistent. And like I said before, by the end of the movie, that belief begins to break down as the character keep getting knocked down but keeping getting back up. That's the essence of comedy, right there, or more aptly, farce. But with the heavy hand the script has, it doesn't even acknowledge the possibility of humor and it moves the audience into a place of vague sadism. A good director would know that and try to at least downplay it, if not out and out re-write it.
With a movie so desperately self-consciously aware of itself, I thought that intro bit was corny, and wound up raising more questions that a normal "shut and watch, the movie's starting" scene would be. Why not do what the characters suggest and have some kids in China watch it on Youtube, with hokey military warning intact, too? But that'd be too close to making a /point/ for this film.
The only really interesting thing about it is it's use of 9/11 imagery -- which for me was uncomfortable. If that footage had been used in a better movie -- a movie /about/ something or that used that imagery to /say/ something other than a cheap effect -- it wouldn't have been so weird.
At 73 minutes, it's kind of long for what it is. I mean, the ending is completely predictable and effectively communicated in big, red letters, so it really could have ended 15 minutes earlier. What's left after that is basically the money shot for the monster fans.
That said, I did get a kick out the building I used to work in getting to be a setting. And then wholloped.