Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
Lizzy Caplan (as Marlena)
TJ Miller (as Hud)
Clover (as itself)
What's it about
A group of twentysomethings deal with the trials and tribulations of growing up, relationships, and running for their lives, screaming in terror, as Manhattan is devastated by an unknown enemy.
Is it good movie?
Lily goes through a lot of time and trouble to schedule a surprise going away party for her boyfriend’s brother, Rob, who is heading off to Japan to be vice-president of something (they never quite say what). She enlists said boyfriend, Jason, to be the party’s videographer, taking “testimonials” from the guests for Rob to have with him in Japan, when he gets lonely for home. Being a slacker, Jason quickly pawns this job off to Rob’s best friend, Hud, who quickly uses it as an excuse to cozy up to Marlena, who doesn’t know that the hopelessly obsessed Hud is alive. Then Beth shows up, the girl whom Rob has secretly been in love with since they were kids…but she shows up with another man. Then we find out that Beth and Rob had a romantic tryst, only Rob dropped the ball, got scared, and never called her again. They have words, and Beth lights out.
Sound like an episode of Felicity?
It should, since producer JJ Abrams and director Matt Reeves, friends since childhood, created that show together. But not to worry, about 20-minutes into the film they drop a bomb on Felicity.
The earth shakes, the power goes out, and screaming and smoke fills the streets. When the party disperses outside to see what the what is, they see a building collapse, and a large object rockets towards them, creating destruction as it lands in the middle of the street. That object is, of course, the head of Lady Liberty. From that moment on, the movie becomes a frantic adventure of Rob, Jason, Lily, Marlena, and Hud trying to get to Beth’s apartment to save her, if she is even still alive, whilst remaining alive themselves. Everywhere they go they run into death and destruction, some of it caused by the military as they fire every weapon they can muster at the a-l-m-o-s-t unseen force creating the mayhem.
The conceit of this film is that it is entirely contained on one home video camera, the one Hud was documenting the party with. Being a properly voyeuristic American, he instinctually understands that turning off the camera during a tragedy would be unthinkable; as he says, “People are gonna wanna see this.” In fact, during several scenes we can see other would-be documenters holding up cameras and cell phones and Sidekicks and whatever else the kids are using these days.
The video camera gimmick works wondrously in this film; it works as well for Cloverfield as it was irritating in The Blair Witch Project. It is slightly illogical that the camera would survive the entire hellish night of rockets, falling buildings, and helicopter crashes, but it lends an urgency and verisimilitude to the proceedings that jackoffs like Michael Bay cannot achieve with eight $600,000 cameras catching every conceivable angle, so it can be forgiven.
Cloverfield is an assault on the audience’s sensibilities: seeing Lady Liberty demolished, seeing the Armed Forces being completely ineffectual against the threat, seeing characters that had been made so intimate to us during the prolog meet such ignominious fates (such as exploding) is quite a bit harrowing. The seemingly constant, real-time flow of events engages the viewer in a visceral way, and the entire film being viewer POV makes the audience feel like an unseen cast member, living the story rather than watching it.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen Version enhanced for 16:9 TVs.
Audio: Dolby Digital, 5.1 Surround Sound.
Audio Commentary with director Matt Reeves: Reeves does a decent commentary, even if he does drone on a bit and speak circularly: uses ten words when one would do. Still, he is affable, and gives some interesting information, such as how the teaser trailer for the film was shot before the script was even finished, during pre-production, and was then worked into the film because they liked it so much.
Document 1.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield (28 minutes): Your standard making of piece, complete with behind the scenes footage and interviews with most of the principle cast and crew. Very informative, and it also shows the level of fun had by all involved. Which should be the only reason for making a movie: because you love it, and it is fun.
Cloverfield Visual Effects (22 minutes): A pretty self-explanatory title, I should say, but probably my favorite of the special features. As genre fans, we are so conditioned to be on the lookout for poor CGI that we never take the time to appreciate when it is done well. Such as the Brooklyn Bridge scene: a minimal crew went to NYC and shot for six days, primarily plates (the stuff they fill in green-screens with). So the cast went out onto the Brooklyn Bridge, shot some plates and some action, and then went back in the studio in LA, on a small piece of constructed Brooklyn Bridge, where the plates and the action were married to the new scenes as the “bridge” was destroyed. I defy you to tell when they switched from the real bridge to the virtual one. And that type of stuff is all over the film. There are scenes where nearly everything you see is manipulated by either Double Negative (who did such fine work on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) or Tippett Studios.
I Saw It! Its Alive! Its Huge! (6 minutes): I can’t tell you about this one. Sorry. You’ll just have to watch the film first.
Clover Fun (4 minutes): This is the gag reel/outtake reel, and is always one of my favorite things to see on a DVD. In this case it is especially entertaining, since most of the primary actors were hired for their ability to improv. There is also a funny scene where a light pole is supposed to crash to the ground, but the bemused crew stand around as it sloooooowly leans over until it barely kisses the pavement.
Deleted Scenes: There are four deleted scenes, all of which I found entertaining, but were cut for flow. My favorite was of Brian Klugman (another Felicity alumnus) preaching to Rob in a testimonial about the dangers of asking for the wrong type of Hentai. He then thinks better of it, and asks Hud to delete the scene. He got his wish! All have commentary by Reeves.
Alternate Endings: There are two alternate endings, both fairly useless. One does not effect the outcome of the film at all, it is merely cosmetic, and the other does effect the outcome, much to its detriment, in my opinion, but you have to be pretty eagle-eyed to spot the difference. Both have commentary by Reeves.
Previews: There are two really neat previews. One is a full trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the other is a tasty tantalizing teaser trailer for (drum roll, please) Star Trek. *sigh*
“Rack ‘Em and Pack ‘Em, We’re Phantoms in 15!” : This feature, which I took the liberty of dubbing as such myself, is actually an Easter Egg. Those watching on a computer can find it easily, but for those watching on a television: go to the set-up screen, go down to the Espanol subtitles link, and push the right arrow. You should highlight a hidden helicopter where the head of Lady Liberty should be. You’re welcome.
Lastly, there is a url listed, www.cloverfieldfiles.com which does not seem to be in existence anymore. Oh well.
Ultimately, flaws and departures from logic aside, this is a captivating film that doesn’t betray us in the end: it remains a character-driven piece all through the heavily CGI proceedings, but most importantly, it remains a genre film. Victoria Principal never wakes up to find Patrick Duffy in the shower. We got total payoff in the end, even if no actual explanations. And it is rare that a big studio like Paramount would let one of their productions take such chances. Rare and refreshing.