Too soon? As it turns out, not really. Connoisseurs of the monster flick-as-national allegory will recall that Godzilla debuted in Japan a scant nine years after Hiroshima. King Kong premiered less than four years after the 1929 crash rendered Manhattan an Art Deco shantytown destroyed by greed and overrun with simian survival instincts. Given this history, perhaps Cloverfield producer J. J. Abrams should be commended for his restraint in waiting over six years before replicating — and radicalizing — 9/11 on film. Or rather, video . Indeed, the allegorical monster here is somewhat incidental; Godzilla may have embodied all the horrors of the nuclear age, but it takes some serious leaps of interpretive faith to suggest that Cloverfield’s 60-story cipher of a sea creature has anything to do with terrorism or the like. No, straight metaphor is so last century; with high-quality digital video, Abrams and director Matt Reeves can evince the events of that benighted day — or at least the televised footage thereof — through direct aesthetic mimesis. Cloverfield may go down as the first action blockbuster better suited to the small screen than the big; the newly released DVD, sealed in its case by a brown sticker reading “Property of the U.S. Government,” brings heft to the premise that we’re watching a camcorder tape found in the remains of Central Park. Impossible to believe in a booming multiplex; played without the fancy surround sound on the oldest television you own, it becomes merely implausible, as you admire how rigorously the filmmakers stick to their admittedly ludicrous formal constraints. Perhaps the most delicious moments are when our 20-something protagonist-cinematographers briefly cross paths with the military and police response teams that form the grand-scale, Bay-Bruckheimer disaster pic playing out offscreen. Such elephantine productions were, of course, what people meant six and a half years ago, when they said it all “looked like a movie”; more stripped down and terrifying than ever on DVD, Cloverfield proves we’ve since learned disaster’s less in what we see than what we don’t.
About the Writer
Jonathan Liu is a reviewer and journalist who has written for The New York Observer, Gawker.com, and The Harvard Book Review.