Despite all the ridiculous hype around the super secret 1-18-08 project produced by J.J. Abrams, I have admit I ended up walking into Cloverfield with pretty high expectations. On top of that, I’m also one of those who actually like the film. I know it’s not exactly a new concept, and we’ve already seen the aesthetic of the hand-held camera in The Blair Witch Project, but as long as a film has got what it takes to captivate cinemagoers and entertain them throughout, why not give it a fair chance?
Unless you really hate movies and stumbled across this review by pure accident, I’m sure you know by now what Matt Reeves’ first big-screen flick is all about. In a nutshell, the plot follows a group of friends as they struggle to escape Manhattan while a massive creature rips through the city, destroying everything that crosses its path. Well technically, they’re not exactly trying to escape. Instead of following everybody else and trying to seek shelter somewhere safe, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), Hud (T.J. Miller), Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) and Lily (Jessica Lucas) engage in a courageous mission to rescue their friend Beth (Odette Yustman), who’s stuck and injured in her apartment downtown.
Cloverfield was heavily advertised as a monster movie told from the perspective of some random people living in Manhattan, but I’m not really sure it can pass as a real monster movie. Although we get to witness plenty of destruction and even catch a few good glimpses at the creature, we know absolutely nothing about it. The film doesn’t tell us exactly what it is, where it came from and why it came to wreak havoc in New York City. Additionally, we really don’t get to see that much of it either. Keeping such information from audiences can indeed increase the suspense of a movie sometimes, but in a monster movie, people may want to know a little bit more. Consequently, that’s why I consider the movie to be more about the people directly affected by the attack of a monster.
Even though this film is not exactly a real monster movie, there’s still plenty to enjoy during its short running time of 74 minutes (that’s when the end credits start rolling). First of all, Cloverfield is highly entertaining, supplying its audience with tons of fast-paced action and a solid dose of suspense. The idea of shooting the film with a small camera held by one of the main characters gives the film a certain claustrophobic sense, and it successfully creates an authentic atmosphere of sheer panic once the monster descends upon the city. Eighteen minutes into the film, we hear the first big bang. Then all of a sudden, the lights go out. Next thing we know a giant fireball erupts over downtown, and all hell breaks loose. Everyone’s disoriented, buildings collapse everywhere, and no one knows what’s going on. We as the viewers have the advantage of knowing it’s a monster on the loose, but that’s still the only thing we know because all we get to see comes from that one camera angle.
As intense as the film gets it doesn’t come without flaws. As so often in this genre, the characters make some extremely stupid decisions which kill off most of the movie’s credibility. The producers said they wanted to make a movie that authentically portrays how people would react to a monster attack, but I can tell you right now, there’s not that much reality to be found in Cloverfield. The idea of a few friends risking their own lives by attempting to rescue a friend who may be dead already is pretty standard. I know that’s what you have to accept if you really want to enjoy the film, but I’m just saying that not much about all of this is really plausible or authentic. On a similar note, I also wondered whether Hud, the guy carrying his camera, has his pockets full of batteries. I doubt his video camera can record for almost 12 hours, and the way the film is edited and structured, I also doubt he’s been turning it on and off a lot. Anyway, despite the absence of logic, the plot keeps moving at a fast speed, and that’s good enough.
There’s not much to say about the cast because most actors haven’t had much experience before. Additionally, all they do in the movie is running and screaming, which doesn’t really require great skills. Cloverfield may have its weaknesses, and it’s advertising campaign prior to the release was more than extravagant, but just as much as I walked into the film with high expectations, I came out pretty satisfied with what I’ve seen. Monster movie or not, logical or not, the movie delivers solid entertainment.
The 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation on the Blu-ray DVD delivers the goods and offers a stunning picture quality. The image is grainy at times, but that’s because a lot of it was shot with an inexpensive camera to give the whole thing a more amateur, home video look. Other than that, I can only recommend watching this film in high definition. Another thing I liked about this edition is the solid Dolby 5.1 True HD audio transfer, which almost transforms your living room into a real battlefield as soon as the creature starts attacking Manhattan. The roaring sound is loud and clear, making the viewing experience even more enjoyable, provided you don’t have neighbors.
The other advantage of investing in the Blu-ray disc is that nearly all of the special features are available in HD. Additionally, some of them are really informative. My personal favorite of the bonus material is “Document 01.18.08,” an interesting 28-minute behind-the-scenes look that offers everything from production meetings to interviews and set footage. Members of the cast and crew talk about the development of the project, the challenge of keeping the whole thing secret, and the patience involved in shooting the flick in such long takes. Another awesome featurette is “Visual Effects,” a 22-minute documentary about the creation of the computer-generated effects and a step-by-step guide on how much work it is to virtually destroy Manhattan.
Also included on the disc is a five-minute piece about the origin of the idea behind the film, three minutes worth of outtakes, four mediocre deleted scenes and two disappointing alternate endings. The “Special Investigation Mode” is more of an interactive feature, and lets you watch the movie in a smaller format with a map on Manhattan displayed on the side, on which you get to track the location of the monster and the main characters throughout the film. This is interesting only if you insist on knowing what exact parts of Manhattan the characters are located in. Matt Reeves’ feature commentary is fairly engaging, but he repeats a whole lot of what you’ll also find in the two featurettes. He mainly focuses on the technical aspects of the movie.
Cloverfield on Blu-ray is worth the investment if you like the movie or haven’t seen it yet. High definition rocks and if you already have a Blu-ray player with an adequate sound system, you’ll be able to fully utilize and enjoy those with this release. Trust me, the roaring sound of that beast in HD will haunt you in your sleep.