Thursday, January 24, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield

In my previous blog entry about Godzilla Unleashed, I touched upon the harsh mistress that is “hype” and the negative backlash it can potentially cause when the very expectations it helps create are not realized once it comes time to live up to them- and now I’m posting a review for Cloverfield. Finally, after over half a year of waiting, audiences finally got to see the culmination of the various tie-in promotional website content, red herrings, and theories up on the screen. So, was it worth all the fuss?

Well, that entirely depends on what you’re expecting from the film. The plot does admittedly hinge on the old filmic device of Characters Doing Stupid Things- a horror story about a haunted house requires a collection of common sense-free victims to go inside so as to ensure that the movie is more than five minutes in length. In the case of Cloverfield, you have to accept that Rob- the lead character- and his friends are willing to venture into a city being leveled by a huge beast so that they can save a mutual acquaintance, Beth, who is trapped (and possibly dying) in her apartment. Even though Rob and Beth had been previously involved romantically, it’s still a questionable bit of motivation at best, especially in lieu of the increasingly dangerous situations the group finds itself in as they stubbornly solider onward in their goal. In a way, the film almost undermines itself in this regard; the portrayal of the monster’s threat is realized so effectively (particularly in an intense sequence involving an encounter at street level between the creature and military ground forces) that it becomes difficult to believe that the characters are able to continuously ignore their own sense of self-preservation. I suppose that my affection of giant monster films helped me to somewhat ignore the spotty logistics of the script, but when it came down to it, all I wanted was a movie about an enormous monster tearing up architecture as witnessed by the terrified humans caught underfoot; not a film where everyone clears out of Manhattan and then safely watches the rest of the events unfold from a news channel in New Jersey while they discuss their feelings. On that level, Cloverfield does deliver.

As far as the whole Blair Witch-esque “giggly camera” style that many critics have expressed a distain for, I really wasn’t that bothered by it. That being said, I wouldn’t want to see it done again in a sequel (which, thanks to the success of the film in its opening weekend, is probably being discussed as I write this). The camera perspective approach arguably works as an introductory narrative device as well as a method to control reveals and create intrigue, but by the end of the movie, the audience is pretty much up to speed with what the creature actually looks like and it’s destructive capabilities. Another movie of fleeting glances and blurry footage would be kind of annoying and insulting.

As for the creature itself, it certainly deserves points for originality. It’s a unique creation for sure, but looks like something that you’d encounter in a sci-fi video game like Doom or Half-Life. Since I can’t offer a picture of it, I’ve thrown together this visual equation to help with the description:

(The red balloons represent what seemed to be a pair of external lungs/gills that sat on either side of the monster’s head). The weird parasitic “fleas” that drop off from its body and attack people are considerably less inspired, however; their design similarities to the giant bugs from Starship Troopers (but with more teeth and eyes) is almost distracting because you can’t help but draw comparisons between the two whenever they’re onscreen.

To sum things up, if you’re a giant monster movie fan, definitely check out Cloverfield. Despite its problems, it’s still a half-decent entry in the genre and worth a watch.

Three out of five.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Game Review: Godzilla Unleashed (PS2)

An interesting particularity that I've noticed in many video game-related magazines comes about when an upcoming and anticipated game is the recipient of a large, extensive preview article, only to be subsequently mentioned a few issues later in the form of a brief review (usually found towards the back of the publication) when said game turns out to be a big, fat disappointment. It’s almost as if the editors are embarrassed that they made such a big deal out of something that ended up being considerably less than the sum of the hype surrounding it. I will admit that whenever I would come across this, I would revel in a slight amount of smug amusement... that is, until the cold hand of irony decided to slap me upside the head in the form of Godzilla Unleashed.

If you’ve followed this blog to any degree over the last year, Godzilla Unleashed is a something that I had committed a fairly subsequent amount of entries to, mostly concerning the various monsters that were slated to appear in the game. I finally bought a copy and after playing for a few hours, felt kind of silly for all the attention I had previously heaped upon it because, frankly-speaking, Unleashed is a disappointing mess. It was then that I became enlightened to the ‘merits’ of the aforementioned techniques used by gaming magazines, and was sorely tempted to post a skeletal entry containing links to miscellaneous game review sites with a smidgen of text along the lines of, “Oh well- as it turns out, the game sucks. See links”. However, I ultimately decided that it would be better to properly see this whole thing through to the end with a relatively full review. So here goes:

Overall, Unleashed can be best described as a clunky version of Atari/Pipeworks’ previous Godzilla-themed videogame effort, Save the Earth. The story (as told via a bunch of voiced-over static illustrations, reused over and over to an annoying degree) is as follows: Earth is bombarded by crystalline meteorites which pepper the planet and send weather patterns- as well as the resident daikaiju- into a tizzy. After picking out a monster to control, the player visits various cities around the globe in order to engage whichever opponents are occupying the location. During each level, the player can:

A) Beat up the enemy monster.

B) Assist or fight a second monster (of an allied, enemy or neutral relationship) that is also trying to beat up the enemy monster.

C) Get defeated by the enemy monster.

D) Destroy all of the huge crystals that are littered about the environment. Some will renew the health or energy of the player’s monster.

E) Run around and wait for the level’s timer to run out.

F) Smash buildings.

G) Go make a sandwich.

Any one of these choices will do, simply because there is no bad decision to be made here: the game will continue onward, regardless of what happens. Screwing up the level doesn’t mean starting over- you just return to the map screen, choose another area and then battle a new foe. This is the game's biggest crime in a nutshell: the whole thing feels like an exercise in pointlessness. I’d imagine that there probably is some sort of internalized significance to the various outcomes- good or bad- but since it doesn’t really seem to overtly affect the gameplay, who cares? Perhaps it subtly alters details of the game’s plot; an uninteresting yarn concerning an alien invasion scheme and an insane military officer, made all the more intolerable from the fact that the game necessitates playing through the story mode numerous times in order to accumulate enough points necessary to unlock all of the monsters (as well as some other extras).

Speaking of which; if you’re looking forward to playing the new monsters like Biollante, Titanosaurus and King Caesar, forget about it- they’re all Wii exclusives. The only new beasts in the PS2 port are Battra (Mothra with a different skin) and Obsidius (one of the non-Toho creatures created specifically for the game).

I could go on in detail about the ugly environment designs, the simplified and unresponsive controls, the dumb-looking “Critical Mass” states (an empowered form that makes the affected monster look like a black and orange candy cane), or the annoying camera, but it’s already painfully evident that I’m advising against a purchase of Godzilla Unleashed. I can’t speak for the Wii version, but according to reviews found around the web, the general opinion isn’t really much better. For those who still own a PS2 or an Xbox, stick with Save the Earth instead; it’s a much more satisfying game by comparison.

Two out of five.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


For those unfamiliar with collectable miniatures games, or “CMG’s for short, it is easiest described as a kind of strategic war game; players duel each other using little figurines which represent various units (troops and vehicles) and are arranged onto a tabletop area that symbolizes a terrain (which can be adorned with miniature representations of environmental objects like trees, buildings, etc). The genres that these kinds of games cover can be pretty expansive, ranging from historical reenactments to fanciful space and fantasy stuff (as seen with popular wargames like Warhammer 40,000):

Traditionally, the figurines used in these games are sold unpainted to allow for the player to customize them with color and decoration; the idea of a game which featured pre-painted miniatures was introduced in order to appeal to those who enjoy tabletop wargaming, but not necessarily the part of it devoted to painting up all the little pieces.

So what does this have to do with giant monsters? Well, it seems that a company called Privateer Press has plans to release a daikaiju-themed miniatures game. As described on their official website:

“Monsterpocalypse brings the kaiju (loosely translated from Japanese as ‘giant monster’) genre – a pop culture favorite – to the tabletop in the form of a fast-paced, action-packed CMG. Designed by Matt Wilson, the award winning creator of WARMACHINE and HORDES, Monsterpocalypse leverages the critically acclaimed abilities of Privateer Press as a leading miniatures manufacturer to enter a new category of product with a property that will appeal to a world-wide fan base of all ages.

“We’ve had great success in the hobby miniatures category, and we will continue to support and expand our offerings there. We are excited to grow the company in this new direction. Creating a property about giant monsters is a natural fit for us and something I’ve always wanted to do.” said Wilson.

The Monsterpocalypse CMG will launch with over 80 figures in the initial set and will include large-scale monsters, destroyable city structures, and vehicles. It is planned for release at retail in 2008. Figures will be sold in randomized booster packs and non-randomized starter games, and special figures will be available at events throughout 2008.”

The game’s webpage also has a couple of pictures of some early prototype figures (like the one above) as well as an email subscription service for announcing updates.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Cloverfield Monster? Mmmmaybe.

A while back I had mentioned that I was going to try to avoid too many posts about J.J. Abrams’ upcoming film, given that most of the information (read: speculation) about the movie is often either quickly discredited or too vague to be newsworthy and therefore a waste of time to center a series of updates around. However, a picture has been creating a buzz on various websites today and I figured that I might as well throw in my two cents on the matter, given the theme of this blog. Here’s the image that some are claiming is the actual design of the Cloverfield monster:

So could this be the creature? Well, if I’ve learned anything with regards to this film, it’s simply to take any news about it with a grain of salt. Below are some “yes” and “no” arguments, as compiled from various posts and talkback sections of places where this picture has been posted- read ‘em and decide for yourself:


-the beast sports a three-figured hand which would jive with the claw damage on the headless Statue of Liberty from the movie poster.
-it has been claimed that the legs and upper body supposedly match what’s seen in the trailer where the monster is shown ducking behind a building. As well, the horn on the monster’s head or back can apparently be seen for a split-instant during the clip of the bridge collapse.
-the design is by Peter Konig, a conceptual artist who is also the film’s art director. Samples of his work can be seen here (which is where the picture hails from).


-you’ll notice that the picture, when viewed from the site, is dated 2003.
-some have claimed that newer television commercials for the movie allegedly feature people being attacked by tentacles of some sort; the monster in the picture is tentacle-free.
-anyone familiar with J.J. Abrams is more than familiar with the fact that he seems to delight in jerking his audience around with red herrings and “leaked” misinformation.

Cloverfield monster or not, it’s still a neat-looking critter all the same.

**UPDATE: 1-11-08**

The "no's" have it- it's not the genuine article. For those of you who guessed correctly, go out and treat yourself to a slice of cake. You've earned it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom

Benjamin, a visitor to my humble little blog, brought this recently-released comic to my attention: a one-shot issue featuring a skirmish between the Incredible Hulk and Marvel's giant Chinese dragon monster, Fin Fang Foom. Stuff like this raises my hopes that there might one day be a second round of “Marvel Monsters” comics, although the company still seems to be preoccupied with doing zombie interpretations of their characters.

The issue also features a reprint of the first appearance of the Fin Fang Foom character from Strange Tales #89, back when he was colored orange (despite being green on the cover of the comic). It’s a fun read and unintentionally humorous in spots, as the writing is typical of most comics from that time period, i.e., lots of awkward, exposition-heavy narrative. For example:

I dunno- if I were one of those soldiers, I think I’d probably be saying something along the lines of “AAAAAAAAAAHHHH! Shoot it! SHOOT IT!” verses flowery observation. But that’s just me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year... of Colossal Horror!

With animated Christmas television specials and drunken New Year’s Eve antics now but a fleeting memory, it’s time to focus on 2008. I’ve noticed that a lot of websites and blogs have currently dedicated themselves to overview lists and countdowns related to this past year, and while I thought that might be a neat idea to do something along those lines, it’s a little tough to pull off with such specialized subject matter. A “Top 10 Giant Monster Movies of 2007” countdown, for example, would consist of D-War and... uh, D-War. See what I mean? Nonetheless, it did get me thinking that I could still cook up some fun monster-themed lists for this blog all the same. In the meantime, I patiently await the release of Cloverfield- a mere couple of weeks away- with hopes that it doesn’t suck. That would be a really crappy way to start out this year.