I finally gave in to my curiosity and checked out the hyped up monster movie Cloverfield last night.

WOW. And that is not an exaggeration. I haven't seen a movie that gripping in a very long time. Congrats to producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves for an amazing picture that takes us back to the days of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It Came From Beneath the Sea and other classics from special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.

In fact, this movie is what you get if you were to combine The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, King Kong, Blair Witch Project, and the television show Friends and stick it all in a blender and press ICE CRUSHER . Luckily it has more King Kong than it does Friends, but my analogy is still close.

The film starts out in a Manhattan loft packed with twenty-somethings sending off a friend to Japan for a new job. (I kept grinning every time Japan was mentioned or referenced because I couldn't help but remember Godzilla hailed from Japan!)

Soon, the earth begins to violently shake and the breaking news reports an earthquake has hit near the harbor and capsized a ship.

The realism of everyone's reactions is intensified as everyone starts running for the street, some whispering to each other "Do you think this is another attack?"--an obvious reference to 9/11.

We soon find out it isn't an earthquake. Nor is it a terrorist plot. The enemy is not human at all, and possibly not even of this earth. A giant creature has surfaced and destroys skyscrapers as easily as a child knocks down toy blocks.

What impressed me the most about the film was the stark realism that the handheld camera delivers. In fact, the whole movie is told from the video camera's point of view because the original intention of the filming was to chronicle the main character's bon voyage and the good wishes from his family and friends. But once the camera is rolling, why not keep it rolling and capture this cataclysmic event? As the character who carries the camera through most of the film states, "People are going to want to see this. They are going to want to see how it all went down."

That comment sent chills up my spine. It really did feel like the audience was sharing in this eye witness account of the destruction of New York City, if not humanity itself. We have the sinking feeling that this really IS the end. What hope is there when the military's best personnel and hardware can't make a dent in their attacks on the creature? More hopelessness falls on us as a
commanding officer says "Whatever it is, it's winning!"

The special effects are simply stunning and it is hard to believe that such impressive work was accomplished with an alleged $25 million budget. I grew up watching monster movies and disaster flicks. Even some of the newest and best always had a sense of being too "fake" for my taste. Not so with Cloverfield. It's mind boggling to watch because you swear you are witnessing the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the complete annihilation of Central Park. The danger, the angst, the suspense, the horror--all of it seems real and my heart was still racing even on the drive home.

Once the action starts, it doesn't let go. It is relentless and unforgiving. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The pretty people don't emerge unscathed. There isn't a neat, perfectly tied up ending in under 90 minutes.

It was maddening to me that so many people in the theater didn't "get" the ending, or much of the movie for that matter. Some bolted out threatening demands of a refund. That they had been "ripped off" by the "stupid" ending. It just proved to me how conditioned so many movie patrons have become by the typical Hollywood cliches. Movies aren't SUPPOSED to end this way.

By the way, there is even a mystique surrounding where the title of the film comes from. The opening screen references "U.S. Designate Project Cloverfield" in the same vein as the "Manhattan Project" or other military endeavors. "Cloverfield" is also the name of a street not far from the production company's offices in Southern California. Some say it was the codename for the film so that details of the plot would not leak out.

Either way, the title of the film is very much like the ending of the movie. Some things are better left to the imagination.

We don't need to know what zip code the creature comes from or what its favorite hobbies are or why it's so ticked off at humanity for the film to grab us by the throats and never let go.

I can't wait to see this movie again and to buy the DVD so I can see how they pulled off this amazing film. And I don't say that about too many movies these days.