Monday, July 14, 2008

Cloverfield and Final Crisis

I just watched Cloverfield on DVD. It was fun. Having heard criticisms and letting the hype pass no doubt made it work better for me.

I watched one of the "making of" shorts. It's the one where they discuss designing the creature. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Everything they said made sense, that it's a "baby" and is propelled by fear. That makes sense. I even thought that a few of the cries/roars of the creature sounded a bit scared or defensive, but that's a common trope in monster movies, so maybe i heard that b/c i expected it. Anyway, it all makes sense. It works. But it's not in the movie. There's nothing in the movie to tell you that the monster is newly hatched and acting on frightened instinct.

There's also the bit in the short where J.J. Abrams says he was inspired to make the movie by all the Godzilla toys he saw in Japan. Wouldn't it be cool if America had its own monster? Sure, it would be cool. That's not in the movie, either. The monster is barely seen in the movie, and it certainly does not lend itself to toys. More importantly, the movie isn't about the monster. The audience can't sympathize with it.

The ideas that went into designing the creature are interesting. The designers apparently put a good deal of thought into creating some feasible alternate biology. It's impressive. It's not in the movie, either. In the movie, we see that the monster moves strangely, that its body is oddly put together, that it has weird critters that fall off of it (there's probably a well thought-out explanation behind that, but it's not in the movie), etc. But just seeing glimpses of that stuff on the screen (the dark, shadowy, constantly shifting screen) doesn't convey all the thought and intended coolness of the design.

This makes me think of Final Crisis. When i read an interview with Grant Morrison, the ideas and rationales he gives for FC make sense. They sound cool, even. But they aren't in the comic. (Or at least not #1, which is the only one i've read. From the reviews and message board posts i've read, they aren't in #2, either, or not so as people can spot them.) For example, the idea that the Fourth Worlders are becoming like ancient polytheistic gods, "possessing" people when they dive into whatever concept a particular god embodies? That's a very cool idea. It ain't in the comic.

I've wondered before if there were aspects of Countdown or One Year Later that weren't being conveyed from the creators' brains to the page. Like, if you could sit in on the conference call where the big ideas are hashed out and the broad plot outlined, you'd get a lot more out of the comic than when you just read the end product. Apparently the same is true of Cloverfield: if you know all the stuff that went into designing that weird kaiju, you'd probably have a whole other level of appreciation for the movie. But you can't get that from the movie, b/c it didn't make it from the creators' brains to the screen.

It feels a bit like listening to someone tell stories about cool stuff that happened in their Dungeons and Dragons or WoW campaign. If you're a player in the game, it's fun and exciting to reminisce about all the killer monsters and wicked maneuvers, and barely-made saving throws, etc. But if you weren't a player in the game, and you're just hearing about it after the fact, it's really boring. Sure, you can follow the plot, but the cool factor doesn't translate. You have to be in on it to get the full--or any--effect.

This phenomenon is no big deal when it comes to telling stories about D&D campaigns, or that crazy thing that your friend did in college that only you and your buddies thinks is funny, or in some fanfic for a niche audience, but when it becomes a factor in something intended for a wider audience, it's a problem.

I don't know what you would call this, but maybe it's something that science-fiction-y geek-culture-y things are more prone to?

Note, i'm not saying that either Cloverfield or Final Crisis are bad. I liked Cloverfield, just not as the "Godzilla for America" thing that it was apparently supposed to be (in fact, i doubt that was the actual intent, regardless what Abrams says; maybe it started out that way, but...). I didn't like Final Crisis #1, but maybe i'll like the whole thing when it's done, but i won't be surprised if i like it for something other than the grand re-imagining of Kirby's Fourth World that it's apparently intended to be.