Cloverfield was an all out experiment for me, but not in the way most people think. The handheld camera element was decided early on as a marketing ploy and also a way to keep the budget really low. Obviously it made our camera expenses nonexistent, but it also gave me a built-in reason to hire the cheapest, most god awful actors outside of pornography because everyday people can’t act, and I wanted these characters to act like everyday people. There was also a competitive aspect to it. If De Palma and Romero were shooting movies this way, then I should be out there doing it better and without social commentary.
The experiment was something else. If successful, it would free storytelling from its most prickly thorn of all: exposition. It’s a pain in the ass to write, and it’s a pain in the ear to hear. “Why not just get rid of it?” I asked. The answer was Cloverfield.
So. This is what the movie looks like WITH exposition:
A baby monster at the bottom of the ocean wakes up one morning only to find his mother has disappeared. He looks all over the known neighborhood but cannot find her. So he starts looking in places he’s never been before. A bunch of his little buddies hop on to make sure he stays safe.
After a while, his head emerges from the water for the first time in his life, and he sees a grand city. “Maybe they know where my mommy is,” he says. His little buddies aren’t so sure.
Before he can ask, he accidentally stumbles into a boat and it explodes. Being just a baby, the terrified monster runs for his life and his little buddies hang on for theirs. There’s not enough room for him in the city and everywhere he turns, buildings fall over and more explosions happen. “I think we better get out of here,” his little buddies yell. The monster starts to cry, “But I’m lost! I want my mommy!” The little buddies jump off and try to find a path that will get him back to the ocean.
In the meantime, everyone is shooting at the monster. None of their bullets hurt though because the monster and his mommy came from Mars, and on Mars, bullets are like candy. The really big bombs are like Ice Cream Sundaes. Because he’s getting so much candy, the monster thinks these people are his friends. He asks them where his mommy is but they don’t seem to understand his words. He leans down to talk louder, but he accidentally eats some and they taste like veggies. He sees things in the sky that look like giant Martian flies and he knocks them down because those things are a nuisance. That just seems to make the little people give him more gumballs and Skittles. Sooner or later he starts walking around again because sweets aren’t going to help him find him mommy any faster. This is a monster that knows when to say when.
His little buddies aren’t doing much better. These little guys aren’t from Mars. They’re from Mercury, a place where if you love someone you bite them. If they don’t love you back, their head will explode twenty minutes later. The little guys don’t even know about that head exploding part because no one’s ever not loved them back before. It comes as a real shock to everybody.
The little people on the ground eventually leave, and the monster is sad to be left all alone. He’s not sad for long though because soon enough the biggest Ice Cream Sundae of all gets dropped on him. Yum! It takes him almost ten minutes to taste the whole thing.
Now that there are no more buildings, the monster can see his way back to the ocean. And guess who’s there waiting for him…MOMMY!!! His little buddies climb back on and the reunited family go back to their home under the waves never to be seen again. The end.
Now when you went and saw Cloverfield, you probably only saw one to zero percent of the movie I just described. Instead you got a hodge-podge of potentially interesting concepts one after the other with absolutely no explanation or resolve. In fact, the movie actually takes place AFTER the beginning and BEFORE the end. Part of what makes it revolutionary is that you don’t know you’re being gypped.
Will an audience accept an impossible monster from nowhere that can’t be hurt no matter what? Yes. How about little alien things with bites that cause people’s heads to explode for no reason? Sure. We waste so much time explaining things like this. Cloverfield proves that people don’t even need it.
I don’t think this would have been possible ten years ago. Somewhere along the line, “Let them solve the puzzle themselves” became “Explanation is unintelligent”. Well, thank god for that! It saves us movie people so much trouble! You won’t be sorry either. We can come up with some cool shit now that we don’t have to back it up with reason. I’m pretty sure my next movie is going to have a pair of breasts for President and a bra for Vice President. And they’re gonna fight the Russians. But the Russians speak Chinese. Why? Who knows? And the hero will be a guy who can only be killed if stabbed in the face with a piece of copper, but the copper has to be dipped into the blood of an alien. The movie will look futuristic, but at the end it will be revealed that all has taken place 5,000,000 years in the past. After you leave the theater, you and your friends will spend weeks coming up with explanations that can never be correct because I never wrote any! Oh man I can’t wait. Thank you Cloverfield! Thank you for freeing me from craft!