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Cloverfield DVD Review

Cloverfield movie poster Cloverfield

Theatrical Release: January 18, 2008 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Lizzy Caplan (Marlena Diamond), Jessica Lucas (Lily Ford), T.J. Miller (Hudson "Hud" Platt), Michael Stahl-David (Rob Hawkins), Mike Vogel (Jason Hawkins), Odette Yustman (Beth McIntyre), Brian Klugman (Charlie), Ben Feldman (Travis), Roma Torre (Herself), Rick Overton (Frantic Man), Scott Lawrence (Lead Soldier)

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Enough years have passed since The Blair Witch Project that even the negative backlash following its unprecedented hit run has become a distant memory. So, the timing was right for TV drama veteran J.J. Abrams and a pair of his colleagues ("Lost" writer Drew Goddard and "Felicity" director Matt Reeves) to try their hands at something similar.
They came up with Cloverfield, a new film supplying handheld reality with an effective viral marketing campaign and an antagonist more felt than seen.

Blair Witch followed a trio of film students into the woods of Maryland, where they delved into a local legend. Cloverfield takes us to a going away party attended by ordinary twentysomethings in lower Manhattan, which is disrupted by something more on the scale of Godzilla.

The first eighteen minutes of the film are devoted to setup. Whereas most of its ilk would be setting up plot with science real or imagined, Cloverfield begins with pure establishment of characters. The light "dude" talk isn't interesting on its own merits, but the viewer suspects (rightfully) that we're not merely passing time. The opening succeeds in that the clear and muddled relationships elucidated by the tactful exposition cause us to care for our core cast once the bedlam ensues.

Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) emerges as the most focal character of "Cloverfield." Here, he is surprised by the film-opening going away party held for him. In a scene that instantly calls to mind September 11th, residents of lower Manhattan take chase from smoke and peril.

The focus of the gathering is Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is bound for Japan to accept a vice president position at an unspecified company. Filming the proceedings is "Hud" (T.J. Miller), who assumes such responsibilities not with skill or passion but as a reluctant favor to Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel). A trio of females round out our leads: Lily (Jessica Lucas) is Jason's girlfriend, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) is the uninterested object of cameraman Hud's affections, and Beth (Odette Yustman) is on the verge of becoming the "one that got away" from the affected guest of honor.

These upbeat young people are entirely unsuspecting of the impending disaster. Electricity wavers, apparent meteorites bring fiery destruction to buildings, smoke billows, and words like "earthquake" and "terrorism" immediately come to mind.
The actual explanation appears to be somewhere in between nature and man, but answers are kept distant while we journey with the characters as they seek safety in a convenience store and a subway station. Beyond chaos and survival, the plot's most substantial thread sees Rob looking for a reunion with Beth, who has made it back to her midtown apartment where threat is just as high as anywhere else in New York City's densest borough.

While some conceits must be accepted (most notably the tidy editing and cinematic persistence), Cloverfield's maintained perspective of an amateur digital video camera proves to be a major asset. Framing the film in this manner grants an inspired contemporary twist to the monster movie, a genre that seems too riddled with camp and clich้ to succeed now by tradition. The cin้ma v้rit้ style employed here goes far not only to sustain audience interest but to sharpen the suspense. In this age of YouTube, large scale tragedy is rendered remarkably potent in terms so easy to appreciate.

Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), Rob, Lily (Jessica Lucas), and our unseen cameraman Hud travel on foot in darkened city subway tunnels. The common auto-focus feature of digital video cameras results in fluctuating sharpness as grand background smoke and foreground human drama vie for our attentions.

With studio backing and a big name producer, Cloverfield cost about 100 times as much as The Blair Witch Project. Still, thanks to its ingenious design, the film's estimated $30 million budget was quite low for a film as technically polished and ambitious. Given a release in the middle of January, long the industry's dumping grounds, the film earned back its budget and then some in just two days. Even with its front-loaded attendance, the movie's $80 million gross domestically (matched overseas) make it a clearly profitable work, if not the enduring, all-out sensation of its stylistic predecessor.

Recognizing the movie's weak legs and the benefit of a DVD release close to a heavy theatrical marketing campaign, Paramount brings Cloverfield to DVD just three months after its theatrical debut.

Buy Cloverfield on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
Subsequently released on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Reflecting the technological advances of the past nine years, Cloverfield ups the ante over Blair Witch's fullscreen/Dolby Surround presentation with the 21st century specs of 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. On your typical studio-backed new movie, this is the boring part where I'd say everything looks and sounds great. Cloverfield isn't your typical studio-backed new movie, but it still seems safe to say that this jerky presentation -- marred by haphazard photography and the occasional DV glitch -- is quite as the filmmakers intended. Reports of theatrical exhibitions inducing motion sickness and nausea were pretty common, but the film isn't so tough to watch on DVD, where conditions will allow the viewer to focus elsewhere and not be as overwhelmed.

One can easily question the authenticity and plausibility of the "homemade" picture and sound. Obviously, high-end high-definition cameras were used (not some crappy Cybershot), and the sound is multi-channel, satisfyingly clear, and of consistent volume. I think, however, we can thank the filmmakers for conveying the idea without painfully recreating the technical limitations of run-of-the-mill consumer products. The DVD excels at showcasing the sensory material without betraying the intention.

As the director of "Cloverfield", Matt Reeves did more than give a camera to young adults and tell them to run wild. Here, he advises actors against a sea of greenscreen. No, it's a not a scene from the upcoming Tron sequel, but instead a look at the many layers of illusions in "Cloverfield Visual Effects." Creature designer Neville Page shares some of his intentions in the short but valuable bonus, "I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!"

BONUS FEATURES

First and longest among the slate of bonus features is an audio commentary by director Matt Reeves. Between the brisk runtime and the many unique topics to cover,
Reeves has no trouble holding our interest (all the way through the slow end credits scroll) in this informative, screen-specific discussion. Though much of the track is devoted to technique and geography, Reeves also regularly touches upon themes and dramatic intent.

"Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield" (28:17) does a good job of covering the secrecy-shrouded, barely month-long production on greenscreen-backed Paramount soundstages in Los Angeles and briefly on location in New York. There's a lot of great on-the-set footage found here.

"Cloverfield Visual Effects" (22:28) is a technical but accessible "how we did it." It looks at the many complex layers of largely CGI illusions by Tippett Studio which mark the film's more active sequences.

"I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!" (5:48) discusses the project's inspiration and the monster's design, which is more easily appreciated here than in the film itself.

A comic testimonial from Charlie (Brian Klugman) is one of four short deleted scenes included. A news report of an ocean disturbance tied to a Japanese oil company is presented in Spanish and three other languages among the DVD's eleven Easter Eggs. The zoom to giant explosion features in the Cloverfield DVD's main menu montage.

"Clover Fun" (3:55) is an amusing reel of outtakes, almost all taken from the party footage.

Four insignificant deleted scenes (3:30) are next, two being comic party testimonials and the other two taking place in the subway. They're followed by two alternate endings (4:32),
which don't offer the excitement you might expect, merely altering the final shot and the second one barely qualifying as different. All six items are presented with explanatory optional commentary by Reeves.

Finally, "Previews" holds the two items that launch the disc: a teaser for J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek film and a trailer for the more imminent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Nothing from Cloverfield's own marketing campaign, which at its start was rather unorthodox, is found on the disc.

EASTER EGGS

In addition, there are a slew of Easter Eggs (11 by Paramount's count), most of which were apparently earlier made available on the Internet. Even going crazy with my mouse on DVD-ROM, I was only able to find one of these on my own. I discovered the rest with help, which, without an endless amount of time and patience, you'll need to uncover them. If you want to find these on your own, click here to skip ahead.

• From the Set Up menu, a helicopter icon takes to a 2-minute montage of cast and crew members excitedly uttering and riffing on what is apparently a line from the film.
• From the Scene Selection menu, you can access an X over chapter 10 to view a scene from the film with severely low-budget effects.

The rest are accessible from a hidden menu, Chapter 17, which shows up only after waiting over a minute on the Scene Selection page of Chapters 12-16. From there, you'll find a variety of viral marketing supplies...
• ...a 2ฝ-minute news report on an ocean disturbance in English, Spanish, French, and Japanese. In addition to language, each version offers different graphics, footage, and newscasters.
• ...a simplified version of the website for Slusho!, a fictional Japanese soft drink found in various J.J. Abrams entities. Though most of the buttons here do nothing, one leads to a fairly bizzarre one-minute commercial for the fake beverage.
• ...last and most unusual are four "Jamie & Teddy" webcam videos (ranging 30 seconds to over 3 minutes) featuring an irate, overdramatic, fast-talking young woman (teen?) addressing her boyfriend. Once again, the majority of the listings here do not do anything.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The main menu takes a conventional montage approach and applies the jerky digital video treatment, yielding a choppy selection of disjointed highlights. The silent, static submenus are less remarkable.

For snazzy packaging, you'll have to hit a Suncoast or FYE for their exclusive steelbook. The niftiest the standard DVD gets is some government security tape on the side, which gets peeled off like your ordinary anti-theft sticker. There are no inserts inside the standard keepcase.

We get a distant look at the entity which qualifies "Cloverfield" as a monster movie and, thus far, the monster movie of the 21st century. The inspired point of view presentation doesn't mean there aren't some striking (unspontaneous) shots.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the horror genre's ongoing battle of myopic suspense versus detailed gore, Cloverfield scores one for the more reliable former team. You don't need to buy into any hype to find this film thrilling and frequently chilling. With a single inspired design idea, the filmmakers breathe exciting new life into the monster movie, forgoing loopy reasoning in favor of modern-day realism. It may not be as affecting (or original) as Blair Witch Project, but with fictional classification clearly established, the fanboy-friendly movie isn't as likely to suffer a flip-flop in public consensus.

Some may be disappointed not to get Cloverfield immediately in high-definition, but for the majority of us still satisfied with standard DVD, Paramount has put together a solid release. Those feeling underwhelmed by the fine disc may want to look into the available retailer exclusives, which range from a unique "mix CD" soundtrack to a half-hour video diary bonus DVD to steelbook packaging. In any event, Cloverfield garners a recommendation.

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Related Reviews:
Transformers • 28 Weeks Later • Beowulf: Director's Cut • Cujo: 20th Anniversary Edition • The Incredibles
New to DVD: Juno • The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep • There Will Be Blood • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Producer J.J. Abrams: Lost: The Complete First Season • Felicity: Senior Year DVD Collection
No Country for Old Men • Into the Wild • In the Valley of Elah • Stargate: The Ark of Truth

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Reviewed April 14, 2008.



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