At the turn of the last century, a movie called “The Blair Witch Project” brought the camcorder technique to the screens, as the search for the mythical Blair witch was enacted by a group of students. It was, at the time, an original idea, with low production costs, that generated millions at the box office, becoming a highly profitable buisness in an industry known for its record earnings every year.
Since then, a lot has changed: the Internet has become 2.0 and YouTube a mass phenomenon. The camcorder culture has been replaced by the universal means of digital production. “The Blair Witch Project”, from a good idea became a possibility at the reach of anyone. The audio-visual industry, meanwhile, has tried to avoid the same catastrophe that took the music industry by storm, anticipating it.
Contextualizing the movie, it should be said that in spite of a few similarities between Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project (both movies are told from the perspective of a camcorder-carrying character), in the case of the former we are far away from the aesteticly-amateurish latter, and have entered the realm of the blockbuster. We have all gotten used to the camcorder. We have all gotten used to the fact that anyone can make a movie about anything without any formal preparation or education. These days, it's enough to have two eyes and a camera. In Cloverfield we witness the taking over of this new genre of movie by the movie industry itself, through some of its most talented producers.
The movie is filled with special effects, which were surely expensive to produce: a monster the size of a skyscraper, unimaginable destruction, thousands of extras, ... In this aspect, it isn't much different from the blockbuster catastrophy movies we've been watching since the 1970s. Yet, when you blend it all together in the “viewfinder” of a personal camera, the rules of the game are changed in a way that the movie actually becomes clever.
Bill Viola wrote in one of his notebooks that he likes to use the video camera as a 'mind', to think the video as duration. And here's where the cleverness of this movie comes into play, in the way in which the (dis)continuity of the video tape is used to build up and destroy the dramatic tension. And even to insert a few flashbacks.
Surely, when all is said and done, we are before an industrial product. Much like the monster on-screen, Hollywood has chewed up the YouTube aesthetic and spit it out. Guaranteed entertainment, but... What's to come next?