Doomsday Art

Just saw Cloverfield. 

The premise of the movie (this is not a spoiler) is that it is a found camcorder tape. From beginning to end. 

(BTW, that means 84 minutes of very shaky, jerky, sideways hand-shaking video. The camera moves drastically the entire time. It can get nauseating and tired. My advice: do not sit up front.) 

This movie is not a story. This is an experience. Closer to a Disneyland ride than a film. Lots of the usual story-telling ingredients are missing. Instead you get an immersive plunge into what it would feel like if a monster attacked your neighborhood.  I’m sure if this had been done a few years from now, it would have been 3D. The result is a sci-fi encounter filmed as if it really happened. Cloverfield is seamless in that respect. An experience probably worth trying once. 


If I were to repeat it, I know how I’d like it. The ideal way to distribute this film would be to hand someone a camcorder tape and say, “Here, watch this.” The ideal screen to see it on is the tiny preview screen on a video cam corder. Or at the very least watch the whole thing on YouTube. Or maybe your cell phone. JJ Abrams, Cloverfield’s director, said he wanted to come up with a “YouTubification” of the monster movie, assuming the ubiquity of video cameras and cell phones cams. And that’s how it should be watched: on a tiny screen. 

Some say there is a resurgence of doomsday art. Time magazine has a piece this week (Apocalypse New), cataloging newly released apocalyptic works. The New York Times reports today on the DVD appeal. This year has seen the simultaneous debut of several end-of-the-world films, books, TV shows, music, comics and video game updates, which gives the appearance of a cultural preoccupation. Among the works: 

Films: Cloverfield, I Am Legend, Life After People, Wall*E

Books: The World Without Us, The Road

TV: Jericho, Battlestar Galactica

Comics: Y: The Last Man

Games: Half-Life 2

Music: Year Zero

DVD: The Apocalypse and Doomsday DVD Collection 


It’s a nice high-profile set, but doomsday art is a very durable and perennial genre. You could probably gather a similar set in almost any year in the last three decades (Terminator, Day After Tomorrow, Oryx and Crate, etc.). Apocalypse scenarios have been a mainstay of science fiction, comics, and B-list movies for a generation or more. Perhaps they are going more mainstream. I’d like to see some data. 

The prospect of being the last person(s) on earth is weirdly seductive. It’s not about the end at all. It’s a romantic vision of rebirth, of starting anew, but with more assets and wisdom that the last birth. It’s a romance that will probably continue to generate works of art in all media every year from now on, until …. the end of the world.


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