Cloverfield is an an OK version of Godzilla, where the Japanese people are replaced by the most diverse collection of people assembled. We have generic 20-something hot guy, generic 20-something hot girl, generic 20-something hot girl 2, generic 20-something ethnic hot girl, and generic 20-something not-so hot but funny and endearingly goofy guy. There’s the 20-something athletic guy, the 20-something kind of athletic guy, the 20-something arty-looking but athletic and good looking guy…. These people probably exist in some alternate universe in Manhattan, but for the normal people of the world, this is an alien culture of attractiveness and perfect teeth. (There isn’t a single gap or yellowed bicuspid on display.)
The first 20 minutes are torturous. They’re literally watching someone’s home movie, which is as boring and mundane as the real thing. No one’s interesting, no one seems to have a brain, no one is particularly funny… it’s just, “Oh, Rob, you’re so cool.” “Oh, that girl is hot.” “They slept together.” “OMFG, NO WAY!” It’s like the movie version of The Real World or Laguna Beach, without the contrived drama.
And then the contrived drama shows up, in the form of a giant lizard thing that attacks Manhattan. There’s no explanation, which is a good thing; the kids in the movie wouldn’t know what was going on, so why should the moviegoer? As soon as the monster shows up, the movie kicks into high-gear. The next hour is another 9/11 homage/parable as New York gets trashed while the main characters do stupid things and the guy holding the camera “documents” their actions. People are dying around them left and right, but the guy keeps filming his friends with his super camera.
(I need this videocamera. Seriously. It never breaks, has amazing image stabilization and focus, and manages to go for about 12 hours on a single charge, despite running its light and switching to night vision. Good job, unnamed Japanese company.)
And then it ends, after about 80 minutes. It’s a decent enough time, a solid B-grade movie that will no doubt be elevated to something bigger by the geek contingent who’s pumped because it’s produced by JJ Abrams. (He’s another guy that “gets” us, or something.)
But Cloverfield is also the ultimate expression of Generation Narcissist. There’s a running gag about the camera dude “documenting” the action, but it’s really what sets the movie apart from its obvious b-movie-ness. Writers and journalists have been “documenting” things forever, but today we have the unprecedented ability to share it with anyone as quickly as we can turn on our computers and type it into a document. This allows news to travel at light speed, but you have to wonder if it’s making us all more passive.
Think of the Don’t Tase Me, Bro” video. It was funny, sure. But more interesting to me was the fact no one helped the guy. It’s as if all of the outrage in the room was being put on hold so they could see how it played out. And within minutes, you just know all of those people posted angry screeds on their blogs and MySpace pages to express their outrage. Outrage!
Now take one scene in the movie. As people have seen in the trailers and commercials, the Statue of Liberty’s head rolls down the street at one point. The first thing dozens of people do is whip out their phones and start taking pictures; mind you, this is before anyone looks around to see if it hit anyone. If this was a real event, I’m sure some of them would have it up on YouTube before the first lizard sighting.
So, maybe it isn’t just a B-movie. It nails the age of YouTube, and how it’s creating a generation of narcissists who feel a compulsion to share and “document” every single detail of their lives in public. It’s the idea that nothing really happens anymore unless some guy documents it with a camera and uploads it somewhere, Twitters about it, or writes an angry forum post or blog entry. And what happens, in the global sense, isn’t nearly as important as how the event impacts individuals and their direct circle of friends.