godzilla meets the dog soldiers on cloverfield lane

WE DON’T WATCH TV in our house. Oh, we have a tele­vi­sion, but it’s not hooked up to cable and nei­ther Berni nor I re­member where or how to find the few local chan­nels avail­able lo­cally. But we do get a lot of use out of our DVD player, watching lots of movies and tele­vi­sion se­ries. One re­cent title that I watched in the middle of a sleep­less night was 10 Clover­field Lane.

It’s a de­cent movie with a little psy­cho­sexual ten­sion that kept me guessing as to where things would lead. Un­for­tu­nately, it even­tu­ally ended with a whimper due to a problem shared my many sim­ilar movie-makers.

 

If you haven’t seen these movies, then stop reading right here right now!

 

I am gong to dis­cuss three movies: 10 Clover­field Lane and its pre­de­cessor Clover­field—both made under the guise of being sci­ence fiction—and a ‘mon­ster movie’ called Dog Sol­diers.

So, it’s SPOILER ALERT time: if you haven’t seen these movies, or if one of your en­thu­si­astic but in­con­sid­erate friends hasn’t al­ready told you about them, then stop reading right here!

You have been warned …

 

Godzilla

How old did we have to be to re­alize that Godzilla was an actor in a (bad) rubber suit? 8? 10? I must have liked them as a kid be­cause, well, I was a kid. But my mem­o­ries of liking them are long gone—and I just re­member al­ways thinking they were dumb. The ‘mon­ster’ above couldn’t frighten the res­i­dents of Sesame Street—or the au­di­ence that watches them.

These are low-budget, genre movies

Each of these movies is a ‘genre movie’: Dog Sol­diers is clas­si­fied as action-horror, while the Clover­field movies are con­sid­ered sci­ence fiction—at least to modern movie-makers and fans they are con­sid­ered sci­ence fic­tion. For those of us who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s reading sci­ence fic­tion in mag­a­zines and books while watching ‘mon­ster movies’ at Sat­urday mati­nees, these could also be la­beled ‘mon­ster movies.’ 1

Each of these three movies has a good script, good di­recting, good acting, and rel­a­tively good pro­duc­tion qualities—especially given their bud­gets. The com­bined cost for making all three movies was a little more than $40,000,000. This is a mi­nus­cule amount at a time when the bill for making an ex­pected block­busters can often sur­pass $100,000,000.

The problem with these movies is simple: they sac­ri­ficed gen­uine sus­pense and terror for gim­micky horror.

Let me explain …

 

Cloverfield: photo of a werewolf from the movie DOG SOLDIERS.

Mon­ster, schmon­ster! Di­rector Neil Mar­shall ru­ined a rea­son­ably taut ac­tion film that could have left viewers imag­i­na­tion all shook up won­dering what did the sol­diers see—instead those viewers saw some skinny guys in tight suits with some­thing they stole out of a Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ington locker. 

Dog Soldiers

Writer and Di­rector: Neil Mar­shall
Pro­ducer: 
Brian Patrick O’­Toole (others) 2
Ac­tors: Kevin McKidd, Sean Per­twee, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham
Budget: $3,500,000
Box Of­fice: $5,000,000 3

In Dog Sol­diers, a group of British Army reg­u­lars are dropped into the Scot­tish high­lands for a training mis­sion and en­counter a larger group of were­wolves. The problem is that the mon­sters are fairly hokey (small bud­gets tend to do that) and ruin the oth­er­wise sus­penseful ac­tion of the story!

Got that?

It was a bloody better movie when we didn’t see the ac­tors in their were­wolf suits!

Had Neil Mar­shall elected not to de­pict the were­wolves at all—that is, no mon­sters in a mon­ster movie—and simply shown the viewer the re­sponses of the hu­mans to the mon­sters that they are seeing and fighting, this might have be­come a very spe­cial movie.

Of course, that would have cre­ated a po­ten­tially bigger problem: how do you sell a monster-movie-without-monsters to the au­di­ence that pays to see low-budget mon­ster movies? That au­di­ence tends to be younger males who like creepy crea­tures in their mon­ster movies, re­gard­less of their hokiness.

Nonethe­less, if Pathé or one of the pro­ducers backed the di­rector into editing a crea­ture­less ver­sion of the movie, it might ap­peal to a different—and po­ten­tially larger—audience.

 

Photo of the head of the Statue of Liberty on a New York street from the movie CLOVERFIELD.

When the head from the Statue of Lib­erty skidded to a halt miles from its shoul­ders, viewers were left to wonder, “How in hell did THAT happen?!!?” In­stead of al­lowing our imag­i­na­tions to run wild, di­rector Matt Reeves de­cided to show us in­stead and gave us an ex­pla­na­tion that had a lot in common with Japanese mon­ster movies of the ’50s.

Cloverfield

Writer: Drew God­dard
Pro­ducer: 
J.J. AbramsBryan Burk
Di­rector: 
Matt Reeves
Ac­tors: 
Lizzy Ca­plan, Jes­sica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman

Budget: $25,000,000
Box Of­fice: 
$170,000,000

Clover­field is a 2008 movie that be­gins at a party in an apart­ment in New York City that is dis­rupted by an ex­plo­sion and a power outage. The movie fol­lows six people fleeing through the chaos of the city, not knowing the cause of the chaos. The gim­mick is that the en­tire movie was ‘found’: the cam­eraman starts filming at the party and doesn’t stop as the chaos and terror of the story unfolds.

Shot with a hand­held camera, the dizzying run through the streets and build­ings and the ig­no­rance of the cause of what ap­pears to be Ar­mageddon make the first half of the movie gripping.

What is hap­pening to New York?

The people in the story don’t know; they just have to keep run­ning for safety.

The au­di­ence doesn’t know—they just have to watch and wonder.

Then the cause is shown: a GI-BLOODY-GANTIC mon­ster that might as well have been from a ’50s Japanese ef­fects shop for all its terror-dampening ef­fect on the movie

And it just doesn’t fit the rest of the movie!

 

Photo of John Goodman and Mary Winstead from the movie 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

For a good part of the be­gin­ning of this movie, the pos­si­bility ex­ists that a woman (Mary Eliz­a­beth Win­stead) has been kid­napped and is being held pris­oner by po­ten­tial a rapist, sadist, or mur­derer (John Goodman). The ten­sion and sus­pense pro­vided by the cap­tive’s con­fu­sion, fear, and ex­pec­ta­tions of her cap­tor’s be­havior and the rel­a­tively calm de­meanor of her captor and his ex­pec­ta­tions of her be­havior is the best part of the movie. 

10 Cloverfield Lane

Writers: Josh Camp­bell, Matthew Stucken, Damien Chazelle
Pro­ducers: 
J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber
Di­rector: 
Dan Tra­cht­en­berg
Ac­tors: 
John Goodman, Mary Eliz­a­beth Win­stead, John Gal­lagher Jr
Budget: 
$15,000,000
Box Of­fice: 
$100,000,000

10 Clover­field Lane is the second film in the Clover­field fran­chise. The film was de­vel­oped from a script ti­tled The Cellar, but under pro­duc­tion by Bad Robot, it was turned into a spir­i­tual suc­cessor of the 2008 film Clover­field. The film fol­lows a young woman who, after a car crash, wakes up in an un­der­ground bunker with two men who in­sist that an event has left the sur­face of Earth uninhabitable.

The film is pre­sented in a third-person nar­ra­tive, in con­trast to its pre­de­ces­sor’s found-footage style. 

Other hu­mans ap­pear at the shel­ter’s door wanting in, bol­stering Good­man’s story that some­thing hor­ren­dous has happened.

Since the title of the movie is 10 Clover­field Lane, it is tied loosely into the first Clover­field movie. And since that one was about an alien in­va­sion, so then does this one have to be about non-human trespassers.

So, while there is a nice amount of sus­pense built up waiting to find out what the problem is on the out­side, it dissipated—not re­leased cathartically—when the heroine breaks free and has to outrun yet an­other crea­ture from an­other Hol­ly­wood spe­cial ef­fects department.

And it just doesn’t fit the rest of the movie!

 

Cloverfield: Poster for the original 1963 movie THE HAUNTING.

It can de done: The Haunting is one of the scariest, creepiest ghost/scary movies ever made, and there’s not a mon­ster nor a ghost to be seen. In fact, you’ll never know what was real and what was imag­i­na­tion. At least that’s true for the 1963 orig­inal by Robert Wise; the 1999 re­make is dreck. 

Monster movies without monsters

Each of the three movies above are worth watching—specially of you’re a fan of scary mon­ster films. But each could have been a better movie without a single con­tri­bu­tion from the mon­ster spe­cial­ists in their spe­cial ef­fects de­part­ment. In each, the sup­pos­edly scary mon­ster di­lutes the im­pact of the terror or sus­pense or an­tic­i­pa­tion that the script and the acting sets up.

Got that?

They were bet­ters movies when we had to imagine our own monsters!

Finding out that their mon­sters were Godzil­la’s kissin’ cousins was a bringdown.

 

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the poster for the Dog Sol­diers movie. The art­work for the poster is very ef­fec­tive, making the movie look scarier than it is. (PS: If I was handy with ma­nip­u­lating im­ages, I would have al­tered the shadow on the fea­tured image to re­semble Godzilla in­stead of a werewolf.)

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   A genre movie “fol­lows some or all of the con­ven­tions of a par­tic­ular genre, whether or not it was in­ten­tional when the movie was pro­duced” (Wikipedia). The Wiki ed­i­tors lists more than 200 genres or sub-genres, which seems be­yond excessive.

2   Weirdly, in Wikipedia’s entry on Neil Mar­shall, Dog Sol­diers is re­ferred to as a “horror-comedy film.”

3   Dog Sol­diers did not have a the­atrical re­lease in the US but heading di­rectly to the Sci Fi Channel.

 

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