Cloverfield: Style over substance?

Let’s start with a contentious one and see how the day takes us from there:

I have a theory about blogs: the only people with time enough to update a blog on a frequent basis are those people who do not lead exciting enough lives to actually warrant posting anything. Conversely, when you are doing loads of stuff and coming up with cool ideas that other people will want to know about, there is no time to actually sit down at a keyboard and write it up.

So it is with the next post: Had I gotten around to posting these thoughts about Cloverfield when they were fresh in my mind, the posting would have been quite topical. As it is, the moment has passed: Anyone who wanted to see it, will have seen it and those who don’t will almost certainly not be interested. On the other hand, I have never been one to stop in the face of overwhelming stupidity, so let’s plough on regardless.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Cloverfield it is a movie that was released in early 2008. There were various stories published about the making of the film, including that the actors didn’t know all the parts of the story, that the name of the film kept changing etc etc. So why the rumours? Well, much of the advertising was done via a ‘viral marketing’ campaign. This can be a risky strategy for films that may work spectacularly (e.g. Blair Witch Project) or fail dismally (e.g. Snakes on a Plane).

But why would you need to use such a risky strategy for Cloverfield? Well, because at its heart it is a story that has been told countless times before. According to Angie Errigo (and various others) there are only really 7 basic plots and every story ever told is simply a variation on one or more of those plot-lines. This is apparent when you look at at films like ‘Dan in Real Life’ which looks remarkably like ‘Roxanne’ which is ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ etc etc. And Cloverfield is no different: It is telling us one of those 7 stories that we have all seen before; this time it is a monster story (don’t think I am giving anything away here). So why are we going to see the story again? Well, sometimes it is because we do know the story and want to see how it has been updated (think Peter Jackson’s King Kong) and sometimes we don’t know the story but have heard cool things about the film: And this is the approach that Cloverfield took.

As a monster film goes it is pretty cool- I jumped at all the right moments, I laughed (though possibly not at the right moments) and I wanted to stars to escape from the monster. Is it a great film? Absolutely not. Was it worth spending the €8 to see what the hype was about? Probably. Would I have gone to see the film without the viral marketing campaign? Probably not. So, whatever the film’s producers spent on viral marketing, they made some money back on it.

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