Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Exercize in Over-Rationalizing a Movie

Thar be spoilers ahead. Be ye forewarned.

I went and saw Cloverfield over the long weekend, mostly because a group of people I know were going and I had nothing better to do. I went in fully aware that this was the Blair Witch Project of monster movies, and I can say that the experience was not a waste of my money. The CGI was decent and wasn't done for the sake of drawing attention to itself, and the story was entertaining enough that you didn't think about the absurdly long battery life of the handheld camera that was supposedly capturing the film. I've read a bunch of stuff about the supposed parallels between the movie and the attacks of 11 September, but I really didn't see any connections except that something was attacking New York, and you're going to get that in any monster movie involving the Big Apple. (Or it might be that I'm too distanced/insulated/uncaring about the 11 Sept. attacks, but that's the subject for a future post.)

Also, I've heard some complaints about the big bad monster, mostly about how it was disappointing. There are two things one has to consider about this though. First is that the evil monster you create in your head will always scare the crap out of you more than anything that can be put up on screen. This is why the best horror/suspense films don't even bother showing the evil in the dark - doing so would be anticlimactic. The second is that there are only so many ways to put together a creature that is 20 stories tall, able to support its own weight, and able to move faster than a slow plod in a believable manner. They did a good job of reversing the orientations of limbs and other things, but they can't not have huge muscles reminiscent of nearly any terrestrial animal. Smaller things, like the arthropods of death that dropped off the big baddie, have a lot more freedom in body plan, and they realized the little buggers quite nicely.

However, while others may have been enthralled by the plot and touched by the movie's theme of the importance of friendship, I found a different take-home lesson from the movie:

There is a time and a place when you should listen to certain evolutionarily conserved programming in your brain, cut your losses, and run like a scared little monkey.

It doesn't matter that this girl you've liked since forever and boinked once a few months ago is trapped in her collapsed apartment building located right where the big monster is rampaging. It's near-certain that she's going to die, and if you go into that area, you probably will too. The same goes for any friends dumb enough to follow you without tackling you and hauling you off to safety. The central character in the movie was offered three opportunities to obey his inner scared monkey, and each time chose to be heroic and stupid. I fully accept that the movie could not happen without its characters being willfully stupid, and I also accept that certain people will let their emotions rule their decisions in survival situations and make really bad decisions. However, when you have one person gravely injured in a highly inaccessible area, with multiple hazards between them and their putative rescuers, and a group of four survivors that are at worst walking wounded, the rational decision is to save the four lives that are nearly guaranteed, rather than risking all five.

The first opportunity for the group to save their own asses came when the story's central character got the initial call from the romantic interest - right before his brother was killed by damage done to the Brooklyn Bridge by the monster. He could've gone, "Nope, I'm in over my head, I'm getting out of here," found another way off of Manhattan, and ended the movie abruptly. The second offered out was right after the bridge scene, with the military-led evacuation group walking towards safety the next street over. Again, calmer and more rational thought at that time was possible, and leaving was perfectly plausible. The character supposedly holding the camera even threatened to tackle our idiot hero, but doesn't follow through (This brings up a corollary to the above lesson: if your group's leader insists on being stupid and heroic, you either tackle him and drag him to safety against his will or let him go off to die by himself.) The last out they were given was in the Army field hospital set up in a department store, when they saw one of their companion's chest explode as a result of being bitten by one of the skittering arthropods of doom. (The explosion was done in pantomime, as doing the CGI for that would have definitely lost the movie its PG-13 rating.) If that, along with the fact that the Army's only answer to such wounds was quarantine for the victim and biotainer suits for the medical personnel, is not enough to convince one that they are in over their heads and need to leave immediately, I don't know what is. Of the five characters involved in the rescue attempt driving the plot, four died and the fifth might have survived - and the possible survivor was not the one that the group set out to rescue. Four dead and one maybe really does not seem like a good outcome to me, but of course, your mileage may vary.

"Don't be a hero," is slowly becoming a stock phrase in war/battle/survival movies, but it is something that this batch of characters should have listened to. People who try to be heroes end up doing stupid things and get others besides themselves injured or killed - so when a big alien decides to destroy your local metropolis, do the sensible thing and get out.

(I fully intend to plug in hyperlinks from this article to when I have the time.)

1 comment:

rknil said...

I won't miss missing it.

Movies went off the cliff in 1996 when good writing became mostly extinct and the quest for bigger and "better" special effects became the driving force.

Since then, about the only movies I waste time and $ on are the comic book movies, simply because I know they'll have crappy dialogue and loads of effects. Then if they're pleasant surprises (Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2), I'm happy. If they suck (Spider-Man 3), then I got what I expected.

The alleged comedy movies are insipid, juvenile and based on incredibly lame premises. I avoid them like the plague.