Directed by Matt Reeves
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 84 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Review Date: April 6, 2008
A clever amalgamation of the tone and tenor that made such horror films as Aliens and The Blair Witch Project so popular, Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield is a cracking good time. Suspenseful and scary without the unbridled gore that sometimes makes shock films monotonous, Cloverfield is a lean, stripped-for-action thriller that’s also touching and even funny. It may not break any new cinematic ground, but the terrain it probes is nevertheless worth the exploration.
During a going-away party for young businessman Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), New York City finds itself under siege by some kind of frightful disturbance. People are scurrying to get out of the city in massive droves, and Rob, together with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girl friend Lily (Jessica Lucas), deadpan friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and good natured videographer Hud (T.J. Miller) who was videotaping the party, make a mad dash for the Brooklyn Bridge. Rob, however, receives a cryptic distress message from a girl he’s deeply fond of but recently estranged from, Beth (Odette Yustman), so he and the gang decide they’ll take the risk of finding her in midtown Manhattan before they seek safety from the city’s attacker(s).
Thus, the film turns into a chase and destroy movie with our frightened band dodging numerous perils on their rescue mission and then later in their desperate bid to escape the city without losing their lives. Drew Goddard’s script has concocted several astonishingly effective shock moments (the subway tunnel is a special favorite) while at the same time keeping spirits up by having the jovial Hud’s dry, goofy sense of the absurd come to the fore. Nervous laughter while under duress is always an effective means of capturing and holding an audience. It works to grand effect here.
Matt Reeves’ direction deftly blends the green screen special effects work with actual New York locations and studio sets to make a slick, believable package that‘s entirely engaging and surprisingly realistic. One must get past the notion that someone fleeing for his life would continue to videotape everything that was happening, but once that hurdle of disbelief is conquered, the film is completely disarming with a brief enough running time to sustain tension to the maximum and provide complete identification with the young leads.
T.J. Miller’s Hud steals the picture even though we only see him on camera for a brief period. His running commentary (some of it obviously ad-libbed) is frequently hilarious not only during the twenty minute party sequence but even after the mayhem begins in earnest. Michael Stahl-David makes an eager young protagonist, and Lizzy Caplan’s Marlena fires a few zingers at Hud which also produce some uneasy laughs.
The special effects work is cleverly accomplished offering us just a taste of the villains at first and gradually revealing more and more of the adversaries our heroes are facing as the film progresses. The smallish nature of the production, unlike Roland Emmerich’s gargantuan Godzilla which sank under its own enormity, makes for a snazzy, snappy thriller, much more resembling the effective chills of the small scale 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers than its more ambitious but sometimes lumbering remakes.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Since the movie is meant to look like it’s been videotaped, discussions of sharpness, contrast, detail, and the like seem almost superfluous. Does the DVD represent accurately the intended theatrical look of the film? Absolutely. Black levels run the gamut from milky to inky, and the various light levels from the dark tunnels to the bright subway platform and the amber lighting of the party all come through superbly. The film is divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is thoroughly compelling. Deep, extensive LFE engage the senses continually (which reminded me at certain times of the masterful sound design in the most recent version of The War of the Worlds), and there are plenty of discreet effects used in all the channels with imaginative pans and bone-chilling smaller sounds always at play.
Director Matt Reeves contributes a very gabby audio commentary where the filmmaker rarely draws a breath. It’s literally exhausting listening to him ramble sometimes about certain scenes or set-ups, but his enthusiasm is contagious, and he’s obviously delighted with how his film turned out, his first work in this genre.
“Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield” is an entertaining 28-minute documentary touching on every aspect of the production process from filming on both the Paramount and Warner backlots, to location shooting in Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, and New York. The featurette is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Cloverfield Visual Effects” covers the eight main areas of the production which required special effects work including how the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty were fashioned, the creation of the parasites and main creature, and the destruction of many New York landmarks including the Woolworth Tower. This anamorphic featurette runs a generous 22 minutes.
“I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge!” goes into more detail with various designs for the monster. It runs 5½ minutes and is also in anamorphic widescreen.
The disc offers 4 minutes of funny outtakes, mostly adlibbing on the set which didn’t work.
4 deleted scenes are offered which can be played all at once or individually and with or without director commentary explaining why the scenes weren’t used. Together, these anamorphic scenes run 3½ minutes.
Director Matt Reeves also provides commentary (or not) with 2 alternate endings for the movie, neither of which is as effective as the one in the finished work. Together they run 4½ minutes.
There are previews of the upcoming (and highly anticipated) Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Surprisingly, the trailer for Cloverfield is not present on this disc.
Cloverfield is a wildly entertaining but completely unpretentious horror thriller. This set offers plenty of bonus material for the curious about how the effects were manufactured, and the picture and sound are both of high quality. It’s highly recommended for fans of the genre.