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Feature


Young lovers Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) end their relationship when Rob scores a Vice Presidential job in Japan. Weeks later, Rob’s friends throw him a surprise party to celebrate his new job. Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) has been given the task of filming goodbye testimonials during the party, a job he quickly hands over to best friend Hud (T.J. Miller). When Beth shows up with a new beau the party turns sour, as do Rob’s spirits. While Jason and Hud attempt to console Rob something throws the Statue of Liberty’s head at them.

Cloverfield
Cloverfield belongs on a pedestal in the annuals of classic exploitation cinema. It may’ve cost $25 million (which is still incredibly cheap by studio standards), and it may’ve been released in a couple thousand theatres to a final stateside ( edit to clarify: release weekend) total of $40 million, but it’s still a film that “attract[s] viewers by exciting their more prurient interests”. That’s the wikipedia definition, which goes on to define the genre as “rely[ing] heavily on the lurid advertising of their content rather than the intrinsic quality of the film[s]”. If this doesn’t exemplify everything that makes Cloverfield special, I don’t know what does. What better thing to exploit then the western world’s ongoing fear of repeat terrorist attacks? If it’s good enough for Steven Spielberg it should be good enough for anyone, right?

The ‘relying on lurid advertising’ part is the part that makes Cloverfield a truly modern exploitation vehicle. The film’s producers, which include TV production superstar J.J. Abrams (I’m entirely unfamiliar with the man’s work, except Mission Impossible III), put together one of the most tantalizingly enigmatic as campaigns in recent history. Cloverfield sported no fewer than six fake titles, none of which were present on the original trailers that were mysteriously tacked onto Transformers with almost zero previous internet buzz. Post trailer release the net was plenty abuzz with even more mysterious viral promotional sites. Suddenly, what appeared rather obviously to be a monster movie by way of the Blair Witch Project was rumoured to be an adaptation of everything from H.P. Lovecraft to Voltron and the ‘Rampage’ video game series. The best William Castle ever managed was a buzzer in the seat.

Cloverfield
Cloverfield is at its best when it’s manipulating us with images of massive destruction from a candid street level. I found myself genuinely nerve jangled during these combat photography by way of Youtube chase scenes. For several glorious moments I was legitimately transferred to a horrifyingly real world where terrifying monsters stomp on innocent, terrorist frazzled New Yorkers. As a horror fan I’ve found it harder and harder to find movies that really frighten me and Abrams and director Matt Reeves found a successful means to bring out my basic real life fears by supernatural means. During these moments I knew what it was to be an A-bomb distressed Japanese man watching the original Godzilla for the first time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but be entirely torn out of my frightful state of suspended disbelief every time the film stopped to develop its plot and characters. Upon a first viewing (in theatres) I assumed that I just didn’t like the characters, and that the plot depended on too many coincidences and dubious character choices. These are still unavoidable problems, but a second look has led me to a slight change in reasoning. I now think that a character-driven feature simply can’t sustain such authentic realism. The only way it could work is for the film to be strictly plot-driven, following the army’s battle with the monster from start to finish through various media film sources, as if one were flipping through channels as the event happened live (just like it happened on September 11th). Something tells me Paramount wouldn’t have given up 25 million dollars for that project.

Cloverfield
The problem with Abrams and co.’s concept, which is a clever one, is that it requires much more suspension of disbelief then most of us are capable of. This is the real world, and real world rules keep applying. A second viewing on a smaller screen only allows these issues to scream louder. There aren’t a lot of films that attempt the ‘found footage’ approach, and every single one, though often successful on a visceral level first viewing, can fail when nit-picked apart. Some audiences simply aren’t willing to go along with high concept for high concept’s sake.

The most successful ‘found footage’ movie is still the granddaddy, Cannibal Holocaust (though Ruggero Deodato was inspired by the often faked and sold as real Mondo films of the 1960s, and the first third doesn’t really work at all). Cloverfield’s biggest hurdle of disbelief is Hud’s reasoning for continued documentation—why wouldn’t he just drop the camera and run? Cannibal Holocaust (and to a lesser extent the Cannibal Holocaust inspired Blair Witch Project) doesn’t have this problem because the protagonists are documentarians that are actually creating the mayhem. But I suppose a film from the point of view of the Cloverfield monster’s giant camcorder would be more funny then frightening. Still, it’s hard to deny Deodato’s film had influence on Abrams (see below).

Cloverfield
Cloverfield

Video


The ‘real world’ video of Cloverfield is (I believe) not supposed to be high definition (though technically it was filmed as such), so the standard definition of the original DVD release was really more than acceptable. The movie looks kind of like crap throughout, but it’s been specially crafted to look like crap, so more power to it. The lighting is dull, the framing is awkward, the grain is heavy, the focus is bad, etcetera and so forth. The colours are often quite bright, with surprisingly minimal blooming (unless, of course, intended).

So is there a point to this Blu-ray, 1080p release? Not really, unfortunately. There’s still some obvious compression throughout, but it’s obviously meant to be there. I can swear to brighter and fuller colours during the better lit scenes, I can swear to generally less compression, and I can acknowledge that there's pleanty of new detail to discover, but I'm not blown away by any of it. Perhaps this is one of those films that has to be seen on a 50 inch screen to really appriciate the difference between the DVD and Blu-Ray release.

Audio


Cloverfield’s audio is one of those things that can pull you out of the film if you think too hardly about it. Some digital camcorders come with stereo microphones that create a 5.1 effect, but I find it pretty unbelievable that modern technology can exact the sound of a gigantic monster stomping up behind us. But this is really an unnecessary nit-pick, because the ferocity of a large-scale monster attack wouldn’t work as well in mono or even stereo. The trade off for intense, multi-channel soundtrack is a lack of music (mostly, there’s some music-like ambient noise). Without the unrealistic 5.1 track we wouldn’t get the impressive punch of the creature’s early attacks, or the visceral impact of the army attacks. The vast majority of the film is centre-channel friendly, and most of the stereo and surround channel work is devoted to light ambiance.

This new TrueHD track is more or less the same thing as the DVD track, but it is obviously less compressed. My volume levels were much different upon this viewing, though my overall experience wasn’t. This is clear from the opening company credit stomping bass, which is just about as close as your living room will probably get to being shaken by an approaching behemoth. The party scenes, being more subtle then the monster scenes, show the most improvement. It actually sounds a realistic immersion into a party atmosphere, more so then the DVD release. The big scenes are generally punchier and clearer, and I’m sure that those with real top of the line systems will notice the difference.

Cloverfield

Extras


I said with my DVD review that I was a little surprised at the general lack of volume in special features. I thought that that release was a stopgap to a better release, but I thought that the Blu-ray would take a little longer to be released. This is more or less the same collection of extras. I’m reminded that there are plans for a sequel, so I’m guessing that will be the point at which we’ll see a bad ass special edition.

The Blu-ray release has one exclusive extra, and it’s a pretty neat one. What we’ve got is called a ‘Special Investigation Mode’, which is a viewing mode that places the film in a smaller frame and surrounds it with various notes and images. This option allows for the audience to play along with the film. On the left is a map of Long Island, which lights up with three different coloured dots depending on the actions of the film. A blue dot represents the human subjects, a red dot represents the monster (Large Scale Aggressor or LSA), and a green dot represents primary military activity. Along the bottom of the screen is a little fact track that talks about some of the more mysterious aspects, and some of the more obvious (‘It is suspected that the Statue of Liberty’s head was deemed inedible and rejected by the LSA’). Between these items, also below the movie itself, is a little ‘Creature Radar’, which lights up when the LSA is nearby. This is a very cool extra, and the kind of thing I expect more of from the technology.

Reeves’ track is, technically speaking, very good, fulfilling many questions about the pre-production process, the filming process, and some of the post-production process, and his personal views and attachments to the film, but the absence of Abrams is suspicious to me (perhaps he was too busy with his new Star Trek project). Perhaps I’m just a little double-dip paranoid on this one. Regardless, I learned quite a bit about the making of Cloverfield from Reeves’ calm and collected commentary, specifically about the early production (though he doesn’t cop to ripping off The Descent’s best scare). Some fans may be disappointed by the lack of detailed description of the film’s monster and his (her?) origin (another possible clue to a future special edition release).

Cloverfield
The deleted scenes (four) and alternate endings (two) will probably disappoint most of the film’s biggest fans as well. All the deleted scenes take place during the film’s almost unbearable opening party. There’s no new monster footage or alternate and more violent versions of some of the lice attacks. The alternate endings both come to the same conclusion as the final film (no proof of survival, or death, or monster getting away, or monster being quashed), but vary slightly in length and location on Coney Island. All scenes feature a Reeves commentary track.

Three decent featurettes fill out a couple of facts Reeves may have missed during his commentary. ‘Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield’ is your basic who, where, when, and why of the production. Abrams and the actors are given a shot at explaining themselves. It’s not too deep, and it isn’t too long, but it fulfils a few of our informative needs. ‘Cloverfield Visual Effects’ is more like it, delving deeper into the film’s fleeting magic. It’s a credit to Reeves and the effects crew how hard it is to even notice some of the film’s more special sleight of hand. ‘I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge’ is a brief look more specifically at the design of the monster, though it does literally repeat the other commentaries.

‘Clover Fun’ is the blooper reel, which mostly consists of actor T.J. Miller making people laugh, but also includes some destruction related follies. A few previews, and some Easter egg end the extras.

Cloverfield

Overall


Cloverfield smashes its way onto Blu-ray, but not quite with the aggression I expected from a double dip. Maybe I shouldn’t count this as a double dip, but as a delayed next generation release. If you already own the film on DVD you might want to wait a little while for the sequel release in theatres, because I’m almost positive there’ll be another release with more extras around then, but the enhanced viewing option is pretty cool. The A/V isn’t a massive upgrade, but it is a noticeable one. This is a case where I leave a purchase entirely up to reader discretion without any huge input other then the assumption that I would wait. But that’s just me.

* Note: The Images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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