Writer: Drew Goddard
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman
Release Date: April 22, 2008
People are either going to love or hate Cloverfield. There really is no in between. I’ve seen reviews that said everything from “I love it” to “this movie sucks balls”. No matter what your opinion is of Cloverfield, we can all agree that while the concept isn’t necessarily new, for a horror movie, the way in which the movie was filmed is not conventional, especially for a J.J. Abrams spectacular theatrical release. Filmed with handheld cameras from a bird’s (well person’s) eye view of the action, audiences have commented on this approach in a variety of ways.
It’s been reported that some people claim to have gotten sick or headaches from the constant movement of the cameras (though they must have incredibly sensitive stomachs if that is the case). Others have stated how ‘into the moment’ they felt based on the action. The story is rather elementary, but the nature of the filmmaking and the cast, who put in a decent performance, especially for a group of relatively unknown actors, are what sell this movie. Sure, the thrill aspect is attractive, but this is a thriller/monster type of movie. We’ve seen it before, and with a tighter plot. Still, it is the ingenious promotion that was done for the movie and the unique style of filmmaking that make Cloverfield definitely worth watching, at least once.
I first heard about Cloverfield during a promotion while watching the Transformers movie. It wasn’t immediately clear what the movie was about, and even when further trailers revealed little snippets about Cloverfield, the actual plot still seemed rather mysterious. Going into the movie, all I knew was that Cloverfield was some sort of disaster movie. The head of the Statue of Liberty went flying across midtown Manhattan, after all.
Despite its doubters, Cloverfield did quite well at both the box office and with reviewers, as a whole. Cloverfield debuted in North American theaters on January 18, 2008. During its opening weekend, Cloverfield was playing in 3,411 theaters and totaled close to $17 million on January 18th alone. The entire weekend, Cloverfield made over $40 million. In the three months since its release, Cloverfield has amassed a gross total of over $100 million worldwide and the DVD hasn’t even been released yet.
On April 22, 2008, Cloverfield is set to be released through Paramount, which has distributed the film to local and online retailers. The DVD can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $15.99 or at DVD Empire, where it can be purchased for a little over $20.
The Cloverfield Plot
Without the added elements that make Cloverfield successful (the shaky, handheld cam, the acting, etc.) this movie would have been just another monster movie. We’ve seen it done in New York before. Still, the panic and the reaction of the actors remind all of us that remember 9/11 exactly how chaotic any type of emergency situation can be. For some this probably hit pretty close to home, and the imagery, such as the Statue of Liberty’s head flying into a midtown Manhattan street, is all of the reminder New Yorkers (and all Americans) need to show us all of the panic and hopelessness that was felt. At one point, the characters think that a terrorist attack has occurred, but it seems to be something far worse than that, and there isn’t any way to escape the terror going on, as the island is pretty much shut off from the rest of the world thanks to this unknown yet terrifying enemy.
Cloverfield starts out innocently enough. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is going to be heading overseas (Japan – I believe) to work as the Vice President in some prestigious company. His brother, Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas) are throwing him a surprise going away party. Jason is supposed to document the party, but he ends up making Rob’s best friend, Hudson “Hud” Platt (T.J. Miller) go around with a handheld video camera so the tape can be given to Rob to view when he’s away from his friends and family, who are still in New York. To add some drama to this party, Rob’s friend, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman), who we learn he recently had sex with, shows up to the party with another guy. After Rob runs Beth off, unintentionally since it’s clear he likes her and she him (though him moving has affected her greatly), things turn ugly.
As you might have guessed, the majority of the action is filmed by Hud, though on occasion Rob, Beth, Jason or one of the other characters hold the camera. When Clover (the nickname for the monster) strikes, the city descends into chaos. Rob tries to get ahold of Beth, people get separated and people come together. The group is joined by the weird girl that Hud has a crush on, Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan). I spent the whole movie trying to figure out where the heck I’d seen Caplan and then I realized I saw her in Mean Girls as LoHo’s character’s best friend, Janis Ian. Coincidentally, Caplan played a weird girl in that movie, too.
I really don’t feel it’s fair to go into any more detail then I already have. All you need to know is that a group of twentysomethings have to escape something nicknamed Clover. Some of them are separated. There is some tragedy. The exit route they try to take is blocked off and there is a whole lot of confusion and drama in relation to the incident. Overall, Cloverfield is a pulse-pounding thrill ride through movie monster hell with catastrophic overtones of another 9/11. If the shaky film work doesn’t scare you, or make you sick, the sheer irony of the plot will be enough to leave you somewhat frightened and pondering long after the credits begin to roll.
The audio quality for Cloverfield was stellar save for the fact that it was shot with amateur cameras. What was available was a clear, if not shaky, picture, but considering that was intentional and added to the scare factor/ambiance of the movie it’s hardly worth mentioning as a fault. The shaky camera works best for Cloverfield and had it not been used, I believe that this would be considered another, relatively passé monster movie. For what it’s worth, the picture is anamorphic widescreen and has been transferred at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Sure there is grain, degradation of the picture quality, and there are visual flaws. Since these things were intentionally done, the transfer serves its intended purpose quite well.
Considering the types of cameras used to film Cloverfield, it’s amazing how good both the video and sound quality are. Everything sounds chaotic and that’s the way it’s supposed to sound. That message came through loud and clear. Cloverfield offers three Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 tracks. They are in English, French, and Spanish. All three tracks are available with closed captioning. Subtitles in all three languages are also available. Even if you get confused, the subtitles help though it isn’t really hard to make out what is being said. No volume toggling was needed and the audio did add to the mood of the film, especially near the end.
Considering the independent feel of Cloverfield, I didn’t expect there to be much in the way of extras. I was pleasantly surprised to see a standard list of typical extras. I hope they’d have some substance to them, and they actually did! If you’re a fan of the movie, what is available will be well worth the DVD purchase.
The first bonus is an audio commentary with Matt Reeves, the director of Cloverfield. Reeves is virtually unknown in the movie industry as far as directors goes. Well, until now. I had no idea who he was and even after the movie, I didn’t really realize that this wasn’t really a J.J. Abrams film. Abrams did produce the film, but this really was the pet project of Reeves (best known for writing and directing the Abrams show, Felicity) and writer, Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Lost). I enjoyed the commentary. Reeves is an interesting fellow. He provides quite a bit of information on the making of Cloverfield, the visual quality, the film format, and more.
There are some fun featurettes included in the Cloverfield bonus section. The first is “The making of Cloverfield”. Coming in at close to a half hour, this is a hodge podge of behind the scenes footage, cast and crew discussions, and an appearance by J.J. Abrams, in the flesh. There is a feature that’s 22 minutes long entitled, “Cloverfield Visual Effects”. As you might have guessed, this discusses the visual effects used in Cloverfield. Then there is a five minute featurette “I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge!” This featurette focuses mainly on the evil monster, ‘Clover’.
Other features include alternative Endings (though most of the changes are minor), deleted scenes, “Clover Fun”, which features outtakes, and previews for the soon to be released films, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Star Trek.
Cloverfield is a film you should see at least once. While this film definitely has a place in my DVD Collection, it won’t be included in everyones, especially those with weak stomachs. Cloverfield is an inventive take on something that has been done many times before and while not everyone will like how this movie was made, those who enjoy this film won’t want to go without owning a copy of the Cloverfield DVD. This one is recommended.