Audiences going to see “Cloverfield” are warned beforehand that if they have a weak heart, high blood pressure, suffer motion sickness or are pregnant, they better not see the movie. That’s one of the many gimmicks accompanying the monster movie released in Japan as “Hakaisha” (Destroyer).
Produced by JJ Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves, “Cloverfield” stars relative unknowns Michael Stahl-David and Lizzy Caplan and has been a big hit since its U.S. release in January. It has been described as anything from “Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla” to “Godzilla for the YouTube generation.”
Told from the point of view of a motormouth holding a shaking camcorder, “Cloverfield” (the title is the military designation for the area formerly known as Central Park) deals with the destruction of New York by a mostly unseen and unexplained monster. The posters for the movie leave no doubt that it is an allegory for 9/11 in much the same way Godzilla was meant to be an allegory for the damage inflicted on Japan by the atom bomb.
“We wanted to find a way to speak to the anxiety that American people feel after 9/11,” said Reeves. “The film evokes feelings of what it would be like to have your entire life turned upside down, to suddenly put you in the middle of something horrific going on that you don’t understand, but to let you approach those feelings in a safe way.” Script writer Drew Goddard added that “Cloverfield” is not so much a metaphor for 9/11 as a study in “how we handle crises as individuals and how we reevaluate our priorities in such situations.”
Abrams said the idea for “Cloverfield” first came to him when he was in Japan in 2006 promoting “Mission: Impossible 3.” “I’d been obsessed with Godzilla ever since I was a kid and when I was here, I took my 8-year-old son to a toy store and saw figurines of Godzilla and other monsters. My son reacted to them as I used to. So I thought how it would be great to make an old-style monster movie in the spirit of Godzilla but make it relevant to our times. Then I decided to combine it with another Japanese invention – the handycam. The entire movie is a great love letter to that part of Japanese culture.”
The decision to use a camcorder not only saved filmmakers a lot of money, but makes the film more frightening, said Abrams. “First of all, these days, there is always someone with a camera filming disasters or just documenting their lives. It can be horrifying or funny, but most importantly, it feels real when you observe an event through a camcorder. Secondly, like the great horror movies, you are more afraid of the unseen. It’s like the shark in ‘Jaws’ or the creature in ‘Alien.’ Your imagination fills in the blanks.”
The biggest challenge for filmmakers was keeping the project under wraps. The buzz started last summer when theaters showed mysterious untitled trailers of the film before “Transformers.” There were no press releases or media previews. “The idea was to sneak up on people, but that’s hard to do in this age of multimedia,” admitted Abrams. “We knew we couldn’t keep it a complete secret. No matter what we do, someone always gets a copy out online. It’s frustrating. I worked on a script for a Superman movie for two years. It got leaked online and bad reviews poured in. That scared the studio and the movie fell apart. Scripts aren’t meant to be shown to the public. But I can tell you one thing. ‘Cloverfield’ should definitely be seen on the big screen, not on your computer.”© Japan Today