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Feature


Rob (Michael Stahl-David) has just landed a large promotion to Vice President of a Japanese corporation, and his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and future sister-in-law Lily (Jessica Lucas) decide to throw him a surprise going-away party to celebrate his success. Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) scores the job of filming testimonials at the party, if he can keep his eyes off of attractive party-goer Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) for long enough. Things are going well until Mike's lifelong friend and unrequited love Beth (Odette Yustman) arrives with a new boyfriend in tow, at which point she has a big bust up with Rob and storms out, leaving him to retire to the roof with Jason and Hud to sort his head out.

Cloverfield
While they're up on the roof the guys experience strange tremors before seeing a large explosion off in the distance. They head downstairs to meet up with the girls before venturing into the New York streets. Then something throws the Statue of Liberty's head at them. Then the Empire State Building collapses. It very quickly becomes apparent that something has attacked the city, but what? Shortly afterwards Rob receives a garbled, panicked voicemail from Beth, and so he sets out across the warzone that was New York City in an against-all-odds bid to rescue her.

In my experience Cloverfield is a film that polarises audiences. It would seem that you either buy into the premise that someone, anyone, would bother to carry a camera around with them while a thirty-five story monster rips the city to shreds, or you don't. I did, and I found the film to be an entertaining ride that kept me on the edge of my seat for much of its (short) running time. Some have complained that we don't get to know the characters, or that they're not likeable enough, but this is supposed to be 'found footage'—a document of one group's experiences while just trying to survive the night. Sure Hud is annoying, but don't we all know someone like him, and haven’t we all done dumb things in the name of love?

Cloverfield
I'm not going to tear the film apart, because to be honest it's been done by far more qualified people than me (our own Gabe Powers for a start). All I know is that Cloverfield stirred some kind of survival instinct within me. I was genuinely tense during the more chaotic moments and I jumped during the creepy parasite attack sequences (even if they were a bit of a cheap scare). To tell you the truth I actually found the whole experience quite nerve-wracking. While the effect is somewhat lessened by the transition to the small screen, Cloverfield is still a decent thrill ride with some half-decent performances by a young, up-and-coming cast (including Jessica Lucas of CSI fame).

Video


Cloverfield's choice of 'hand-held' filming style doesn't lend itself to creating the greatest looking DVD presentation in the world, but it's not too bad. Presented at roughly 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, I felt the transfer did a good job of recreating the cinematic experience. Although the film was technically shot in HD, it's supposed to look like it was shot on a camcorder, which actually works in this standard definition release's favour (especially after it's been scaled for display on a 1080p TV). Applying any sort of conventional criticism to such a highly stylised picture is redundant, because it's meant to look erratic, poorly focussed, grainy, badly framed and such. It looks all of those things, but it also looks like a perfectly acceptable rendition of the source material. Personally, I can't wait to see it on Blu-ray, which should sharpen things up a touch.

Cloverfield

Audio


What really made Cloverfield such an enjoyable ride at the cinema was the fantastic, all-encompassing soundtrack. I can't remember the last time a film pulled me into its world so completely by virtue of sound design. At times I honestly thought I was caught in the middle of the carnage as the military battled the monster, and although this disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track isn't quite as impressive, it's still a pretty decent effort. One of my favourite moments was when our heroes were trapped on opposite sides of the street as the army battled the monster. You don't really see much of either, but you can hear the gunfire, heavy artillery and roars from every angle, just as you would if you were in the situation yourself. There's no traditional score as such, but the ambient effects create a kind of 'real-world' score to accompany the on-screen action. It's effective stuff, if not as ‘complete’ as a traditional score.

Of course the track requires you to buy into yet another of the film's conceits—that a hand-held camcorder can produce 5.1 audio. Obviously it makes no sense for anything other than dramatic purposes, but a Mono soundtrack just wouldn't be the same. Hey, if you can get over the whole 'found footage' thing, this should be a breeze.

Cloverfield

Extras


First up we have a solo commentary track from director Matt Reeves. I'm not normally a fan of technical solo tracks, but this one was actually pretty good. Dead air is kept to a minimum and the director manages to make some interesting observations, rather than just wittering on. On the negative side, while Reeves provides a lot of technical background information, he reveals very little about the story or the monster. I'm an impatient sort of chap, and I want more info now dammit!

'Supplemental Files' is a branching feature that displays a battery indicator at random intervals throughout the film. If you click enter when it appears you'll be shown one of two things: a behind the scenes clip about some facet of the production, or one of the viral marketing videos used to promote the movie. If you're one of the people who spent hours trawling websites looking for clues about the film, this is for you.

'Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield' runs for a little over twenty-seven minutes and covers the genesis of the film through to the final days of shooting. Abrams, cast and crew are on hand to talk us through the proceedings, albeit in a fairly superficial manner. There's not a lot here that you won't have already heard in the commentary, and much of what is on display overlaps the other features, but there is quite a lot of behind-the-scenes footage.

Cloverfield
'Coverfield Visual Effects' runs for a little over twenty minutes and briefly covers all of the film's major set-pieces. I was actually pretty surprised by how seamless the majority of the CGI was, especially the digital backdrops and buildings. I honestly couldn't tell where the sets ended and the CGI began, not to mention the fact that the whole integration into the New York surroundings was excellent.

'I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!' is a short technical featurette on 'Clover's' design, and includes interview footage with those responsible. It's followed by 'Clover Fun', which is a blooper reel consisting of the usual actors goofing around and SFX not working as intended kind of stuff.

There are four deleted scenes and two alternate endings, all with optional commentary from director Matt Reeves. Unfortunately all of the deleted scenes occur before 'Clover' shows up, so that means more of the opening party. The alternate endings provide only subtle differences from the theatrical ending, but one of those differences is actually quite important (if you catch it).

Cloverfield

Overall


As an experiment, Cloverfield is very interesting, but as a film it has a few obvious shortcomings. People usually like, nay expect, happy resolution, but Cloverfield provides none. Instead we're left with a bleak ending and more questions than answers. However, if you're after something that challenges your usual cinemagoing expectations you could do a lot worse. Be warned, however, that it's not for everyone. If you can't get over the hand-held plot device, you'll find it very difficult to accept anything that follows.

Although you really need to see Cloverfield at the cinema to get the full effect, this special edition DVD set is a decent representation of the theatrical experience. Solid A/V coupled with an interesting array of supplemental features make for an enjoyable time, even if the bonus material looks better on paper than it actually is. I can't help thinking that there's another edition somewhere down the line with more input from J. J. Abrams, perhaps when the inevitable sequel stomps its way into town.


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