FILM REVIEW: “Cloverfield” is one of those movies that hits the monster-movie genre mark on the head, providing escapist fun and thrills, but managing to do it in a very unique style by utilising the “Blair-Witch” home video technique to tell the story (but doing it much better than “Blair-Witch”). In this film, a monster the size of the Empire State Building terrorises New York City, destroying everything in its path. As a growing battle ensures between the monster and the army, a small group of New Yorkers, who just happen to have a handicam with them, document the whole incident from their point of view as they try to escape the bedlam. The film is a lot of fun, and although it does not always believably work, the unique style in which it is shot combined with the monster genre trademarks make for some strong, entertaining viewing.
The first Act, and probably the weakest part of the film, is the set up of all the characters at a going away party. It is a little too long, and is by and large filled with teenage melodramas. The style and interesting use of flashbacks that occur when the cameraman stops filming to rewind and watch some footage are established quite well and orientate you in to the film successfully while giving you some back-story on the characters, even though some of the dialogue and interactions are far from interesting. The film kicks in to high gear when the party guests experience what feels like an earthquake; they go to the roof to see what is going on and see an explosion on a skyscraper in the distance. What follows is the best scene in the film when for several minutes, all hell breaks loose, culminating in the head of the Statue of Liberty flying through the air and crashing to a halt on a New York street. From then on, we follow the core group of characters, and the cameraman filming everything, as they try to escape from New York.
The monster is used just the right amount throughout the film. For the first half of the film, you see a tail here, or an arm there; an exciting sequence on the Brooklyn Bridge when all you see is the monster’s tail crash down on the bridge, killing off what we believe to be one of the major characters in the film and destroying the bridge is shocking and quite scary because only seeing a flash of something out of the corner of your eye (which is how this scene is presented) is often scarier than seeing it in full detail. As the film continues, the monster is revealed more and more, with the biggest moment occurring when our unfortunate cameraman finds himself at the feet of the monster; he gets several seconds to film the monster before getting eaten. I must say however, I would love to get the model of camera that was used because it manages to survive the biting motions inside the monster’s mouth, before falling to the ground and perfectly framing itself on the face of the cameraman who is now dead. Ridiculous, but it is all part of the fun.
Director Matt Reeves shows some clever inventiveness to the staging of the scenes to maintain the home video feel without, for the most part, looking as if it were staged (although there are some sequences which are a little too convenient to have been caught off the cuff). He manages to surprise us on many occasions, particularly in two sequences where we see off-spring of the monster rolling off its back in news footage, as well as the sequence where one of the characters explodes after being bitten by one of the off-spring. Also, his use of night-vision in the subway attack sequence is brilliant, where we only see glimpses of the monsters here and there, but there is a lot of scuffling and fighting on the soundtrack, making for an effectively tense and eerie atmosphere.
“Cloverfield” is ideally suited to DVD; the jerky home-video shots were quite uncomfortable to watch on a cinema screen but are quite enjoyable in the comfort of your own home. Coupled with the fact that it was shot on high-def and looks raw lends itself to the DVD medium perfectly.
If there is a down-side to this film is that some of the shots are too convenient to have been filmed handicam style. There was probably no way around this, but some of the shots in the second half of the film which manage to frame the monster in just the right way stand out immediately as not being spontaneous. Another problem in watching the film is the idea of it being a gimmick; even at 81 minutes, the style of the film can became annoying to your senses (which would have been exacerbated if you had seen it in the cinema).
“Cloverfield” is fun entertainment, shot in a unique style that takes full advantage of the monster-movie conventions while delivering the thrills and excitement you would expect.
TECHNICAL REVIEW: Although this film received a theatrical release in cinemas, it was ideally suited for the DVD medium. Shot on high-definition digital video with home video style camera angles, the film is perfectly represented on DVD, with a fantastic video transfer that takes advantage of the medium within which the film was shot. The jerky camera movements appear more crisp and clear on a television screen as opposed to a cinema screen. The audio transfer is spectacular, making full use of the surrounds, particularly whenever the monster shows up. The sequence where all hell first breaks loose culminating in the decapitation of the State of Liberty is well worth experiencing on your system. Overall, an excellent transfer.
EXTRAS REVIEW: The extras package on this DVD is decent. The first disc contains an informative audio commentary by director Matt Reeves, as well as a “Cloverfield Supplementary Files” feature which when activated, will populate an icon on the screen while you watch the film, giving you access to a specific featurette associated with the scene you are watching (with over twenty featurettes covering everything from casting to behind the scenes material). The second disc contains more traditional extras such as a Making-Of Documentary and featurettes, deleted and extended scenes with optional audio commentaries, as well as an alternate ending with optional audio commentary. Overall, a decent complement of extras which will given you a good insight in to what made this film.
BOTTOM LINE: Worth having in the collection.
For the complete, original DVD review, click this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/dvdreviewcloverfield.htm.
Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site http://www.allaboutmovies.net.