'Cloverfield' is a worthy addition to apocalypse genre

The ad for the recently released film, "Cloverfield," shows a decapitated Statue of Liberty facing, so to speak, Manhattan which is aglow with fires and explosions. Clearly something apocalyptic has occurred. To find out what will require the price of a movie ticket and a mere 84 minutes.

The key word here is apocalyptic, and this film fits nicely into that familiar genre which either deals with actual end times, meaning those final days of civilization, or the aftermath. It's a compelling subject and has a strange if not powerful attraction. What would it be like to be the last (well, almost last) person on earth and walk the streets of an urban city such as New York absent people, but not absent all the department stores, car dealers, libraries, sporting goods and drug stores. Do most of us feel so put upon by the pressures of population, work and our ever increasing environmental footprint that contemplating a plague that sweeps all of mankind away is secretly sweet? Are we all a bit misanthropic, happy for the company of our fellow travelers, but also a bit disenchanted with the all of it?

Literature has long romanced the apocalypse and its aftermath, dating back to Mary Shelley's "The Last Man." Three classics of the 50s and 60s were Pat Frank's "Alas Babylon," Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" (both about nuclear annihilation), and George R. Stewart's "Earth Abides" which deals with a lone man, having survived a catastrophic epidemic, who lives in the California Bay Area, near Berkeley. And not to forget the well-known "After London" by Richard Jefferies.

A more recent example would be the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Road," written by Cormac McCarthy, a dark, grim novel about a man and a boy making their way to the West Coast after surviving an almost total environmental cataclysm, reminiscent of a nuclear winter.

Last month the post-apocalypse was explored in the Will Smith film, "I Am Legend," which opens with Smith, standing on the wing of a B-something bomber, hitting golf shots into downtown Manhattan. That would be a downtown overgrown with vegetation, where wild animals &

deer, elk, lions &

roam freely. "I Am Legend," at least during the first act, means "I am alone." There is something delicious about seeing how he has adapted.

Tangentially, is it a stretch to consider Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" as a type of apocalyptic adventure where all remnants of civilization are stripped away and survival depends on the individual's ability to be resourceful and tenacious? The island of Crusoe is not much different from Smith's island of Manhattan, at least not psychologically. Profound isolation is not lessened by having a stable of muscle cars, weaponry, or L.L. Bean at your disposal. Of course, there must come a moment in both stories when an element is introduced into the narrative which adds tension and is unsettling, threatening the relative harmony of the character's existence.

Alan Weisman, a journalism teacher at the University of Arizona, penned what turned out to be the unexpected hit of 2007, "The World Without Us," a well-researched book about what the world would soon come to look like if mankind suddenly exited, not because of a destructive cataclysm, but simply vanished. Nature would restore itself, and the damage man has inflicted on the planet would gradually be healed.

Following Weisman's book comes The History Channel's "Life After People," airing Jan. 21. The promos show the Brooklyn Bridge covered with vines, and Manhattan overgrown with foliage. The rendering intrigues and then captivates; it doesn't call forth feelings of oh-my-God regret for all that man has created which has now been swept away, but almost a sense of wanting to side with the natural world which is and has been so pummeled. As if to say that we've had our turn at good stewardship and now it's nature's chance to set things right.

This brings us to "Cloverfield," a film in which the destruction is confined to the island of Manhattan. The perp is a Godzilla-like creature who is having a really bad day. What makes the film interesting and, in a way, fun is that it's filmed in its entirety with a shaky-cam, also called an unstabilized camera. The intended demographic of the movie is a younger audience, one that is endlessly fascinated with YouTube/MySpace film footage. That crowd that films itself endlessly using camcorders and cell phones. There is also a certain cinema v&


233; quality to the footage which is shot by one of the characters and gives the film a serious jolt of real-time verisimilitude. Of course, there are no recognizable actors in "Cloverfield"; however, that also gives the movie a certain realistic punch. These could be people in the apartment next door, and what is happening to them, well, sure, it could happen to us.

The "Cloverfield" narrative is as thin as you might expect. But then this isn't about fleshing out characters, exploring their issues, or dwelling on dialogue. This is a scream, run and survive film and it works.

No doubt, this movie will take its place among countless other apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. Others are certainly in the works. Global warming has yet to be fully explored. But it's only a matter of time until a studio and a bevy of screenwriters join forces to examine all the implications of the ice caps melting and the seas rising. "Waterworld" wasn't a bad effort, though no explanation of the cataclysmic forces that caused civilization to be hundreds of feet under the ocean was ever given.

If you are a fan of the genre, then "Cloverfield" is a must see. For those who may feel a bit marginalized when it comes to films of this ilk, no worries. You will be entertained. And when you get home, tell your kids that you saw the flick. It'll help with your street cred. Really.

Share This Story