Friday, March 7, 2008

The Cloverfield Factor

By David Luhrssen
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The “online community” was all abuzz over Cloverfield. The chatter made for a strong opening weekend last month but audiences in the real world were unimpressed and old-fashioned word of mouth killed it. Cloverfield sank like a stone without an air bubble.

I wound up liking Cloverfield despite suspicions over the Internet hype. I think it’s a modesty successful genre picture with an intriguing set-up and many good moments. Then again, suspicion meant my expectations were low. One of the problems with too much hype is that expectations can grow too high. If Barack Obama wins, will he change the world and solve every problem? Some people feel he should. They will be disappointed.

Cloverfield suffered from expectations inflated by chatrooms, which the naive continue to believe are somehow less filtered and more “genuine” than mainstream media. “Citizen journalists” and bloggers can be every inch as stupid as the average film critic. Have we learned nothing from Snakes on a Plane? The already discussed Cloverfield sequel (to be called what? Onionpatch?) may have been shelved after the negative response of most moviegoers. Because it was relatively inexpensive to make and to market (thanks Internet addicts for doing the work of ad men for free), Cloverfield might actually break even from its short theatrical run. But only a fool would bet on a franchise rising from it.

Aside from unrealistic expectations, why did most people hate Cloverfield? Not unlike a common reaction to No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, many who were coaxed from the comfort of Blockbuster to see Cloverfield came unprepared. Raised on big-box Hollywood movies, they want a film laden with tedious explanations and resolute conclusions, even if they buy the idea of a movie made with somebody’s videocam. Cloverfield offered no comfortable resolutions for an audience seeking escape from problems that have no comfortable resolutions.

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