The monster is out of the proverbial bag. After a brilliant marketing campaign that’s been going on for months, we can finally stop pining over the meaning of Slusho, see how the Statue of Liberty came to be decapitated and see what the heck was making New York another Ground Zero. Employing the same sort of smarts and gadgety resourcefulness that made its viral campaign so delicious and intriguing, Cloverfield brings chaos and terror in one of the most memorable American monster films in some time.
Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is moving to Japan in his quest to move up the corporate ladder. His friends are throwing him a party and Hud (T.J. Miller) is left holding the video camera to collective well wishes and good-byes for Rob to watch after he goes. All’s going well in the apartment party when there’s a shake followed by an explosion and the Statue of Liberty’s head rolling in the downtown Manhattan streets. New York is once again under attack, from what – nobody knows. And so begins Rob, HUD, Jason (Mike Vogel), Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena’s (Lizzy Caplan) journey out of the city and then back in.
Not only is Cloverfield a monster movie, but it’s also a gimmick movie. The entire film is told through the eyes of HUD and the camcorder he was given to tape the party. Through everything, the camera is never turned off for more than a couple of seconds, giving a firsthand account of the attack. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t bother to line up for a bag of M&Ms before the show. The gimmick might be good at getting into the trenches and bringing everyone along for the ride, but it’s also dizzying. It took me a good 20 minutes to get used to the near-constant jiggling, quick movements and “amateur” feel. Even then, there were still many sequences that were tough to focus on. This isn’t a complaint so much as it is a warning to those who might not be able to physically be able to sit and watch the film because of this.
It’s not a new approach. The Blair Witch Project did it a long time ago and America’s Funniest Home Videos has been on since the Olsen twins were still in diapers. But the approach is novel in how it’s applied to the monster genre.It creates several unique shots and sequences that I haven’t seen before. There’s also lots of confusion as Hud has no idea what’s happening. He’s simply like many other gadget-savvy folks caught in the middle of it using technology to record it. It’s only open for interpretation (much like the original untitled teaser and the rest of the marketing campaign websites and faux Slusho ads) once it has been released and consumed – presumably on a news broadcast or on YouTube.
This is a film that captures the genuine fear that is found in chaos. I can only imagine what some New Yorkers must feel after going through the 9/11. Some of the film’s shots do look eerily familiar to those played over and over following the terrorist attacks, no doubt to further make connections to the fears brought to life on those attacks and create a heightened sense of deja vu.
There isn’t much of a story, and in this case I don’t think there should be. There’s snippets of back story on the video that act as clever editing points, as well as give the camcorder gimmick a better sense of reality as the technology is dictating the raw feel. The less that is given, the better. Much is shown about Rob and his posse through the party and how they handle themselves on the streets. You get to know them, but there’s still some distance.
Cloverfield is a film that has an intensity like no other that I’ve seen. It should truly be seen in the theater where its full effects can be felt and experienced. It’s not a film so much centered on a story but rather the process in which the story is told.
Cloverfield DVD Review
Since seeing Cloverfield when it first opened in theaters, one of the first things that struck me was how well it would transfer to home theaters given that seeing it in the cinema was such an experience. And while there is no substitute for the real thing, this is still a pretty darned good DVD.
The film comes with an enhanced widescreen picture. Given that it was shot digitally, nothing is lost in the transfer. Sure it’s shakey and the colors are a little different, that was the way it was shot in the first place. The sound comes with excellent 5.1 Surround tracks in English French and Spanish versions as well as subtitles in all three languages as well.
As far as special features go, director Matt Reeves leads off with a technical yet fascinating commentary track. He’s very conversational breaking down the making of the film opting for the how-to route rather than paying constant surface compliments to the cast and stars.”Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield” is pretty self explanatory and runs about 30 minutes. Another creative title is “Cloverfield Visual Effects.” In it crew talk about how they destroy New York with the magic of green screens, computers and imagination. “I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge!” gets the award for most exclamation points in a DVD featurette. Not surprisingly, it pays attention to the film’s monster.
Other features include a four-minute blooper reel, five deleted scenes and two alternate endings with optional director commentary and previews for Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.