Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GORGOID, The Stuff From 20,000 Fathoms:
My Cloverfield Theories

Make no mistake, I loves me some giant monster movies.

My love is pathological and unreasoning. I saw GODZILLA’S REVENGE on a Saturday afternoon creature feature when I was nine and after that, I had a radioactive lizard on my back. Greatest giant monster movie ever? GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRYS (Japan, 1999). Worst giant monster movie ever? THE GIANT CLAW (USA, 1957). I have seen them all, except for the really obscure Korean ones like SPACE MONSTER WANGWAGWI. I don't mean for that to sound like bragging. I am merely stating my credentials up front.

In case you somehow missed it, CLOVERFIELD comes out this Friday and as far as pre-opening hype goes, it’s easily 2008’s SNAKES ON A PLANE (which in turn was 2006’s BLAIR WITCH PROJECT). Unlike SNAKES, though, CLOVERFIELD might actually be something that people would want to spend nine dollars to see. In fact, the CLOVERFIELD teaser campaign could be so effective that the movie will flop: at approximately 22:40 hours later today, Thurdsay, 1/17/08, half of CLOVERFIELD’s main audience of sci-fi fanboys and Internerds will die of brain aneurysms brought on by the pressure of over-conjecturing about what the damn monster is.

So far, actual details about the film have been scarce. No one outside of the film’s cognoscenti has any verifiable intel regarding the monster and that’s driving many an Internerd crazier than Lindsay Lohan at a pharmaceutical tradeshow. The theories and rumors, however, are rampant and range from the truly moronic to probably better than the actual film. I am here to sift through some of those and posit one or two of my own.

Here’s what we know.

First, we know that bad stuff happens. The opening of the trailer says:
So right off the bat, we know that the people taking the video were unable to deliver the camera themselves (dum dum dum!) and that however things went down, Central Park didn’t survive (dumdumdum DUMMMM!!!). CLOVERFIELD is a faux documentary shot by the folks living it, just like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and this doom and gloom set up certainly implies that the heroes don’t fare any better than those hippie kids did.

We also know that the film is being produced by JJ Abrams (LOST, ALIAS) and was written by Drew Goddard (LOST, ALIAS, BUFFY, ANGEL). There’s not a lot of big screen experience here, but there’s a lot of imagination and good judgment so that’s a good sign. The film is being directed by Matt Reeves (FELICITY, and, um, FELICITY) but since he’s vetted by Abrams that’s pretty much an all season fast pass.

CLOVERFIELD was originally a crafty codename intended to keep the film a secret. It’s the name of the street in Santa Monica where the movie’s offices were. Other working titles have included CHEESE, PARASITE and SLUSHO. This Slusho thing is either key or a brilliant red herring. To wit:



Slusho is a fake Japanese soft drink that first appeared in ALIAS. If you’re paying really close attention, the character Jason (Mike Vogel) is sporting the Slusho brand on his t-shirt in the CLOVERFIELD trailer. Coincidence? From the guys that brought us the Dharma Initiative? Let’s assume not.

The Slusho site tells us that Slusho’s secret ingredient, “Seabed’s Nectar”, is some mysterious ooze from the bottom of the ocean – so it only makes sense that the Japanese would be the first to eat it. It also states that Slusho is so addictive that you will become a “small whale” from drinking it. My gut is that this is a rare case of too much truth in advertising.

Other pages inform us that the FDA “and other such organizations” haven’t approved it for human consumption yet. Curioser and curioser. Assume something sinister and ascribe mind and body altering effects to your Slusho habit; the customer quotes from the Happy Talk page become quite ominous. My favorites are “she is one of them” and “Slusho makes my stomach explode with happy.” The picture below is from the trailer. Somebody’s stomach is sure exploding with something but from the screaming, “happy” isn’t my first guess.

We also know two things about the monster thanks to a recent press release by Abrams. He says that the monster is “a baby. He’s brand-new. He’s confused, disoriented and irritable. And he’s been down there in the water for thousands and thousands of years.” Abrams goes on to mention that our skyscraper sized baby is host to “parasites” that he sloughs off in a sort of “post-birth ritual.” And of course, once a giant monster’s giant parasites lose their meal ticket, they’re going to hook their claws into whatever else looks most edible. One one hand, I love this plan. It only makes sense that a monster the size of Rhode Island would have its own ecosystem. There’s a hint of this idea in 1954 in the original GOJIRA, when investigators find a living trilobite in one of Godzilla’s footprints. There’s also a glimpse of this sort of symbiosis in Frank Darabont’s THE MIST, at the end when the giant whatever steps over the car, with flocks of something-or-others circling it. On the other hand, if these minimonsters turn out to be baby Cloverfields we’ve got the same cheap Jurassic Park rip-off that Roland Emmerich’s blasphemous 1998 GODZILLA travesty devolved into. That’s the point where I kidnap Abrams and sell his kidneys on the black market to get my ticket money back.

Roving packs of five-foot whale lice would indeed bring the horror down to the street level with the five partiers and their handheld video camera. After all, the Japanese know that the best way to focus on a giant monster for a whole movie is to have it fight another giant monster, and CLOVERFIELD shows no signs of that.

So from what little info we have, we can discount many of the fanboy theories. It’s not another American GODZILLA film, nor is it a legitimate American licensing of the true Toho GODZILLA. (Abrams has said on numerous occasions that he’s looking to make his own mark on giant monster cinema so look for an original beastie.) Robots don’t have parasites so it isn’t VOLTRON. It’s comes up from the bottom of the ocean so making it an alien would be an unnecessary detail. And despite the fact that it comes up from the ocean, it’s not CTHULHU. This last theory is surprisingly popular amongst the geekery despite how obviously wrong it is. Cthulhu isn’t about knocking over buildings in New York. It’s about rising out of the tide in Massachusetts and driving anyone with monkey DNA batshit crazy just from the sight of it. Backing Cthulhu in this movie is like voting for Nader: you and your crazy friends know it could be the best choice ever, but the other 99% of the universe doesn’t know what the fuck you’re babbling about.

The filmmakers have also publicly stated that the creature is not a mutated whale, a la an exceptionally convincing piece of fan art by fantasy artist Doug Williams that has been grist for the rumor mills all over the Interweb. A whale monster would be a nice little homage to Godzilla whose Japanese name, Gojira, is a derivation of the Japanese word for whale, kujira. Keep that little nugget tucked away for bar trivia night.

I think we need to consider that the filmmakers’ refute of the whale theory may in fact be a big, fat lie. Williams’ wonder whale was definitely designed with a human wearing a rubber suit in mind: just look at the arms and legs beneath all those the flippers. Then read the two “Smilers!” press releases on the Tagruato website for a glimpse into the effects of animals on Slusho. Some whales do dive down deep to feed. Does Seabed’s Nectar cause mutations? Whatever the creature is, it’s coming up from the depths. This future DVD extra bears that out nicely:

So here’s where I’m putting my money.

CLOVERFIELD is going to be a cautionary tale. Nine out of 10 giant monster movies share the same basic caveat: when you dick with the natural order, prepare to be counterdicked a hundredfold. The original GOJIRA/GODZILLA came in the aftermath of America scaring the crap out of the world with the A-bomb. Godzilla was and has always been a metaphor for the dangers of unchecked nuclear power. In the 70’s, when we as a society first started actively caring about what we dumped, tossed, burned and flushed, Godzilla put on a white hat when an even greater threat emerged in GOJIRA TAI HEDORAH aka GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER.

Fast forward thirty years and we’re living in a world where global warming and overconsumption of natural resources threatens to burn out the planet while we’re still standing on it. That’s freakin’ terrifying! Now suppose that somewhere out there on the 2/3 of the planet that we’ve never explored, something bigger than us starts wondering what douchebag has been turning up the thermostat and drinking all his Slusho without chipping in. Pissed? Oh, you bet.

While I am confident that Abrams N’ Palz™ are more than clever enough to come up with their own giant monster story, I’m betting that CLOVERFIELD finds its inspiration not from Godzilla, not from Japanese robots and certainly not from squidheaded cosmic overlords, but rather from GORGO, THE STUFF and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

GORGO is a UK giant monster movie where the titular beast shows up, wrecks a little bit of London and then is captured and put on display. It turns out that Gorgo is actually just a baby and the real fireworks start when mommy shows up, wrecks the rest of London and rescues her wubbykins. Abrams has already told us that his monster is just “a baby.” Will our trigger-happy military actually manage to make it cry loud enough for mommy to hear? That would suck for us.

THE STUFF is a rarely remembered 1985 Larry Cohen film about killer yogurt. An old miner finds a bunch of bubbling white goo coming out of the ground and before you can say “addictive microorganisms that control your brain before they melt your bones,” an ice cream company slaps a label on it and sells it all over the world. Does that ring a bell?
(Besides Slurm, I mean.) It’s a safe bet that Slusho is at least part of the reason that the CLOVERFIELD leviathan is so ornery. Have we been wantonly pillaging its food source, like we do the rest of the planet? Or is Slusho even creepier, as in one of the creature’s own precious bodily fluids? I would never stop laughing if it turned out that the world’s most popular soft drink was Godzilla semen. Neh-ver.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is, to this day, arguably the greatest American giant monster movie, even more so when you consider that it came out three years before the domestic release of the original GODZILLA. In this little gem, a surviving dinosaur gets thawed out by an A-bomb test in the Arctic (ahem! global warming! ahem!) and starts trashing (drumroll please) New York City. The military quickly learn that they can shoot the Beast but in doing so, a virulent contagion spreads from the monster’s splattered blood. So in that movie the virus turned out to be the real problem and in this one, the parasites do. Or the Slusho does. In either case, a giant monster rampaging through your city is an excellent distraction from the more immediate threat. Like how a war is supposedly more important than dying polar bears.

Too political? I’m sorry.

But for all my speculation - which isn’t even enough of the tip of the iceberg to make a decent Spoogezilla smoothie with – CLOVERFIELD is already being shipped to theatres and the odds of any of my or anyone’s rambling being relevant in 48 hours is 50/50 at best. I’ve already got my ticket and my swelling aneurysm for the Thursday midnight thundergeek pre-showing: that’s all that matters right now.

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