Sunshine, but temperatures below zero. Work canceled. School closed. Wife’s out of town, so it was a father/son day for me and our eleven-year-old. We drove into the city and caught a couple of monster flicks.
Cloverfield is getting a lot of attention as the ultimate in shakycam chic, a sort of rollercoaster hybrid of The Blair Witch Project crossed with The Bourne Ultimatum. Which is plenty cool, if you’re attracted to motion sickness. Thank God for Dippin’ Dots ice cream, which calmed our stomachs like Milk of Magnesia. I’ll refrain from describing the precise nature of the disaster that befalls Manhattan. The 9/11 imagery is impossible to ignore, with scenes of collapsing skyscrapers and roaring clouds of smoke chasing pedestrians down city streets. There is nothing low-tech about Cloverfield’s state-of-the-art CGI special effects. What most impressed me was a small but ingenious stylistic flourish: the camcorder through which we’re witnessing the story is recording over an older tape of a romantic excursion to Coney Island by two of the characters. Throughout the movie, a few seconds of Coney Island footage occasionally bleed through like flashbacks.
The second flick was I Am Legend in IMAX. Big-ass screen, no question. More scenes of a demolished Manhattan. More Dippin’ Dots. Will Smith, possibly the last man alive, has survived a plague that’s wiped out most of humankind. Those who haven’t died have devolved into menacing nocturnal zombies. It’s a serviceable sci-fi premise. In fact, this is the fourth adaptation of the same Richard Matheson novel, preceded by The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), The Last Man on Earth (1964), and The Omega Man (1971). Will Smith carries the film. His range and intensity give the story more depth than it probably deserves. (I Am Legend, like Cloverfield, uses heart-tugging flashbacks—scenes of Will’s former life with his wife and daughter—but the cutaways are handled in a more conventional fashion.)