I had an idea in mind of what to expect going in, as I'd heard a few things about it, seen a couple of different trailers and heard some word of mouth. Unfortunately, that can't be avoided when you have to wait a few weeks to see a movie. I prefer to go into a movie with no preconceived notions and no idea what to expect. Almost all of my favorite movie viewing experiences have been this way, when you are totally pleasantly surprised by what transpires on the screen in front of you.
This time, however, that wasn't the case. Not that that is a bad thing, just the way it was. My friend Eathen and I arrived a few minutes before the show started and the theater was almost empty. We settled in and after a half dozen or so trailers and a couple of commercials the film started. Now, I had been warned that it was shot as if with a hand held camera, a-la the Blair Witch, but I was still unprepared for the amount of shakiness on screen. After a half hour of this my head was a bit woozy - after an hour of it, I was downright nauseous. Maybe I'm just more susceptible to this than most folks, but I had to stop watching the screen and just listen to parts of it to avoid getting sick, glancing up whenever possible to keep up with the action, but looking at the floor the rest of the time to avoid heaving. The entire video camera gimmick got old after a very short period of time. The same story could have been told with the same characters without it being done so entirely through a hand held video camera.
Speaking of which, that was exactly the thing that I had the most problems with. I found it easier to suspend my disbelief in a giant rampaging monster than in this video camera technique. I work as an audio visual guy in my day job - or at least that is a large part of my job duties. I know cameras, and let me tell you, if they have one on the market like the ones these folks were using I want one.
Have you ever dropped a camera? I have, from a distance of about three feet, and it was never the same again. This camera was dropped from a distance of about twenty feet, survived a helicopter crash, and lasted through an explosion I can only assume was a nuclear one, and whatever magnetic pulse would have been generated. That is one tough camera.
Not to mention that the characters never, at any time, change tapes or batteries on this camera. Standard mini-dv camera tapes are 60 min long. There are 80 min tapes available, but I’ve never seen any in stores, only online. This movie is 85 min long, and since what we’re seeing is real-time, that means they would have to have at least 85 min of tape in the camera. There is no way that these characters, who barely seem to be able to operate a camera, would have the longer tapes, they would be shooting on whatever is readily available.
It is possible they could have shot this in LP mode, and gotten 120 min of footage, but the quality would look bad, much worse than what we were seeing.
And then there are the battery issues…the battery on my consumer camera wants to start crapping out after I film just one of my son’s basketball games, which is about 40 minutes. It goes out quicker if I film it through the pop out window, like the characters are doing in the shot below.
Even if they had the longer tapes, or were shooting in LP mode, they would have to recharge the battery or have backup, charged batteries. I kept thinking about this during the movie. “Damn, those are some long lasting batteries.” I know I come off like some nitpicking nerd here, but these technical issues pulled me right out of the movie.
Telling the story from the perspective of a bystander caught in the grip of this catastrophe was really a great idea. The emotional impact was incredible and there was a real 9-11 feel to certain parts of it, particularly at the beginning as a building collapses and a giant cloud of debris rushes down the street toward the main characters. It looked almost exactly like footage from 9-11, especially since this was happening IN
Overall I think the film works, and is very powerful in areas, but suffers from the very techniques that make it unique. Any technique can be overdone, and should be used only as much as appropriate. The fact that I felt physically nauseous made this a way overdone gimmick for me.
I've read that there may be a sequel in the works soon. If so, I hope they decide to lose the hand held technique and just tell a good story. It would be easy enough to follow a group of individuals through this crisis with a tripod mounted camera, and I don’t think the effect would be lessened at all. This hand held technique was old after about five minutes of the Blair Witch, much less 85 minutes of Cloverfield.