Released: January 18, 2008
|by Dan Goldwasser
on June 6th, 2008
Note: This review was originally posted on May 8, 2008, and was updated on June 6, 2008 to include information on the new high-definition Blu-ray release of Cloverfield.
Cloverfield is like Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project with a dash of Felicity thrown in. The J.J. Abrams produced monster movie flick was a smash hit when released earlier this year, and features a monster attack on New York City as seen through the eyes (well, videocamera) of a group of yuppie friends living in New York City. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is moving to Japan for a new job position, and his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) throw him a farewell party. Jason gives Hud (T.J. Miller) the video camera to document the night, and the entire film is seen from this point of view, and presented as "found footage". There is some tension at the party when Rob's good friend Beth (Odette Yustman) arrives with a date, since she and Rob had slept together a few weeks previously but things have been strained ever since. After arguing with Rob, Beth leaves with her date, and Rob goes on the balcony to drink his woes away. But soon, something shakes the building, and the party goes to the roof where they witness a large explosion in lower Manhattan - and debris rains down on them. Out on the street things aren't any better - something big is attacking lower Manhattan, and Rob gets a frantic phone call from Beth - but can he rescue her in time?
As the group of friends work their way northwards to Beth, they encounter the creature that is attacking the city, the military, creepy-crawlies in the subway, and a few other surprises along the way. Cloverfield is short - running only 85-minutes long - but it packs a punch. The first act is all about establishing the characters and the relationships between the group of friends, and while it seems a bit slow, it's actually a welcome pace compared with the unrelenting frenetic mayhem that soon follows. By the time the film ends, we're out of breath having just ridden one hell of a rollercoaster ride
Recently released on DVD and now available on Blu-ray disc in high-definition, Cloverfield features a pretty solid transfer, when you consider that the entire film was shot digitally, and is intended to give the feeling that it was from a small handheld camera. (Some of it was, but many of the visual effects shots were shot using the Viper HD camera.) As far as home video movies go, this one looks good, but it's got low saturation and smeary bright spots (like most home movies shot at night). It's hardly a transfer to call attention to, but it looks decent and the DVD is presented in anamorphic 16x9 widescreen video. The Blu-ray disc looks significantly better, with a surprising amount of detail. It's not quite film-like, and the smeary spots still remain, but it's definitely a better image with a lot more to see.
Unlike any home video camera on the market, the sound mix of Cloverfield packs a major punch. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that is powerful and strong, with rumbling subwoofer bass that gives the energy that the shaky-cam video implies. French and Spanish is also provided. There is no score in the film, except for an excellent end title overture composed by Michael Giacchino (appropriately titled "Roar!"), so this is a showcase for sound effects, and it works very well. I only wish I had a camera that could record sound like that! On Blu-ray, the audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that is one of the most aggressive and immersive tracks I've ever heard from a camcorder. (All kidding aside, it's a reference quality track that will bring the roof down!)
The single-disc release on DVD and Blu-ray might not qualify much as a "special edition" (and I wouldn't be surprised to see one released closer to the release of the inevitable sequel), but there are still a number of worthwhile extras. First up is a feature-length commentary by director Matt Reeves. He talks more about the technical aspects of the filmmaking process, and the hurdles encountered in making the film, but doesn't really go into any backstory - leaving us wanting to know more about the creature and the origins. The 28-minute featurette "Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield" gives us a nice look at the production process, including a lot of the green-screen shoots, but not too much about post-production - that part is saved for the 22-minute documentary "Cloverfield Visual Effects", which I found to be the highlight of the disc. There were a lot more green-screen sets and visual effects than you'd realize, and it all helps make what the filmmakers were able to achieve even more impressive. "I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!" is a short (under 6-minutes) featurette that looks into the creature design.
Four minutes of outtakes and four deleted scenes (mainly scenes from the party) are included, the latter with commentary by Reeves. He also gives commentary over two alternate endings, which really just changes the final shot of the film. Minor beats, but the one in the film is the better choice. There are no trailers for Cloverfield on the disc, which is very odd considering the huge marketing campaign they had for the film. Yet another hint/clue that they might be double-dipping with a more solid "special edition" down the line.
All of the extras mentioned above are presented in full HD on the Blu-ray disc, and there's one additional extra that isn't found on the DVD release. "Special Investigation Mode" lets you view the movie in a smaller window, surrounded by some informational displays. A map of Manhattan on the left side provides information as to where the humans are, any primary military action, and the creature is located. Just before (during and after) any monster attack, a small sweeping radar gives you a sense of where it is, and how close it's getting. Finally, a rather interesting trivia window provides some imagery and text pertaining to after-action reporting on the Cloverfield incident. It's not a conventional trivia track, since it's not about the making of the film, but rather provides a extra information that has been gleaned on the characters, locations and monsters in the film. It's definitely worth checking out, and it makes you appreciate the back-story of the film even more.
In all, Cloverfield is a delightful ride that while not perfect, provides plenty of adrenaline. It's probably better on home video than in the theater, since the shaky-cam experience is less nauseating when it doesn't fill your field of vision. With sound that packs a punch and a decent set of extras, it's well worth picking up if you're a fan of the film, or monster movies in general - and if you are lucky enough to have a Blu-ray player, that version is the one to get.
|by Dan Goldwasser
on January 23rd, 2008
Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project with a splash of "Felicity" might be a reasonable way to describe the J.J. Abrams produced monster movie Cloverfield. Presented as "found footage", the movie shows a monster attack on Manhattan as seen through the lens of five friends. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving for Japan for a new job, so his friends throw him a surprise farewell party. Hud (T.J. Miller) is handed the video camera, and ends up spending most of the party hitting on Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) who wants nothing to do with him. When Rob's best friend Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up with a date, things get tense; it turns out that Rob and Beth hooked up a few weeks previously.... and the day-after events were on the very tape that Hud is recording the party. After a confrontation, Beth leaves with her date, and Rob feels dejected. But then the monster attacks the city, and things go from bad to worse. After reaching Beth on her cell and hearing her to be injured, Rob is now on a mission to work his way north through the city to rescue her. But the monster is also headed north, and as Rob and his friends work their way through the city, they encounter the military, the monster, and more.
Directed by Matt Reeves ("Felicity"), Cloverfield plays off as more of a drama than a monster movie, but it's done in a cinema verite style that allows for some surprisingly honest moments. When Rob calls his mom to relay some bad news to her, it's a rather convincing performance by Stahl-David, one that makes you feel like you shouldn't be watching this intimate and painful exchange between mother and son. Hud, who starts out as a cocky womanizer who is just trying to use the duties of videotaping the party to hit on Marlena, evolves into someone who realizes he has been given the responsibility of documenting the events that unfold, because it might be the only record of what happened to them - a responsibility he takes very seriously. There are certainly some moments in the film that seem a bit far fetched, but for the most part, Cloverfield holds up as a movie about friends and relationships.
As a monster movie, it succeeds in spades. Taking a hint from Jaws, we never really see the monster for most of the film. We only see glimpses, and because the creature is so large, we almost never see it in its entirety. A glimpse here and there gives us enough of a taste of how horrific this thing is, like some Lovecraftian nightmare come to ravage New York City. We never really find out where it came from, or what it is, since the film is literally just the footage that Hud shot. By having taped over the happy "day after" of Rob and Beth's hook-up, we're given an opportunity for video "glitches" to throw us back into that happy day, usually at some rather intense moments. It's a great cinematic device that gives the audience a bit of relief from the intensity of the situation, but also gives us an additional glimpse into the relationships between the characters.
The visual effects are mostly seamless. The crew did an excellent job shooting this movie; it was surprising to see so many people credited in the end titles, since you have to wonder where the lights were set up, the boom operator, grips, etc. In fact, there are even a few moments where you can see the cameraman in a reflection of a window - and it appears just to be Hud holding a camcorder. The main drawback to this approach, though, is that the film suffers from an overdose of "shaky cam". It's not as bad as the last two Bourne films, but I sat near the back row, and it still started to affect me a bit. The sound design is phenomenal, and though it's only January, this could be an easy contender for the Best Sound Editing award. (Of course, that such amazing sound could come from a hand-held camera is a stretch.)
There is no music in the film. No score at all. This makes it more realistic as "found footage", and honestly it never felt like it was missing. Lucky for us, though, the end credits features a track called "Roar!" composed by J.J. Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino. This track is a direct homage to the Japanese monster movies that clearly inspired Cloverfield, and comes off as an "Ennio Morricone meets Akira Ifukube" track. It's an excellent piece of music, and contains all the themes for the film that we never heard. A big monster theme, a love theme, and more, with female sopranos adding to the "epic" feeling.
Cloverfield is short, running about 85 minutes long, and it feels like it's missing a third act. But as far as "found footage" films go, this one is very well done. If you can get through the first 20 minutes (which is all about the party and characters), then you'll be able to enjoy the ride. Just sit in the back row, and hold on to your popcorn!
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