Monday, January 21, 2008

Cloverfield and Pulp Filmmaking

Several folks have pointed this out to me over the weekend, that as cool as CLOVERFIELD is, you don't see much of the monster - not in the ads, the poster and certainly not that much in the movie. So why did the movie do so well?

With a $25 - 30M budget -- well, you really can't see that much of the monster can you? You can't afford to show it. My friends didn't quite get it. How can you have a monster movie where you don't see too much of the monster?

Then I pointed them to this post of mine here from back in 2005.

Remember - Nothing beats an audience's imagination.

(A lesson that is being constantly drummed into my head as I rewrite this draft of The Knightmare radio play)


Roger Alford said...

One word: JAWS.

Wil Wheaton said...

I mentioned this on my blog: I didn't think the movie was actually about the monster. It was about these ordinary people trying to understand and survive the worst nightmare of their lives.

I think seeing less of the monster -- just enough to let us know how terrifying it is, and to kickstart our imaginations -- is very effective for most movies, and was even more effective for this one, which needed to keep the audience as uncertain as the characters.

When they finally gave a good look at the monster, I was disappointed; it wasn't nearly as scary as it was in my imagination.

Alan said...

Alien (the first one, not the sequels) was a great example of this. The monster was really never fully revealed until the very end, when it hitched a ride on Ripley's getaway ship. It was the claustrophobic tunnels on the ship and, most important, the characters' reactions to it that made it truly scary throughout the film.

But it was the final payoff where Alien succeeded where Cloverfield came up short -- the Cloverfield creature looked like a Jurassic Water Park version of Godzilla while the Alien creature was just a wicked scary mother-f***er.

Cunningham said...

I read your review Wil after I had posted this and I have to agree:

CLOVERFIELD is not a monster movie.

It's a love story set against the backdrop of an alien monster invasion in Manhattan.

And that, as they say, "makes all the difference..."

(and yes, the parasites in the tunnel were scary as hell...)

Earl Newton said...

I have to go with Wil on this one.

Call me patriotically sacrilegious, but the thing that I kept thinking as I watched the film was,

"This must be what 9-11 felt like."

As for the monster, there was a fleeting thought of, "Oh, that's it?" But by that point, I was already with them. The physical appearance of the monster was as important to me as the threat he represented.

Best part of all? The monster was neither magic (Godzilla can disappear in a city?) nor incompetent. It was a dangerous creature, and everyone did right by staying the hell out of its way.

If we'd seen more of the monster, wouldn't you have thought, somewhere in your mind, "How dangerous can this thing be if these 20-somethings keep surviving?"

Earl Newton said...

That should be the physical appearance wasn't as important as the threat it represented.

I picked a bad time to have never started drinking coffee.

Curt Purcell said...

Bill--I disagree that "nothing beats an audience's imagination." In the case of good writing, what beats it is the author's superior imagination--to which the audience has turned, after all--and the technical writing skills to convey the author's vision precisely. With movies, it's not just writing, but also the monster's visual design and the effects that pull it off. To me, "leaving x to the audience's imagination" is usually a fallback when one or more of those is lacking. I can admire that approach when a filmmaker uses it effectively to overcome a limited budget that doesn't allow for effects that could do the monster justice, but in just about every other case, I see it as either laziness or failure of imagination or talent.