Cloverfield Review
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Last summer, after the screening of Transformers, everybody was talking about the mysterious J. J. Abrams trailer—a teaser for an unnamed monster movie. By the next morning, my film critic friends and I had dug up all kinds of information about this movie—which went by the working title Cloverfield—and we spent the day in an on-going discussion. But as time passed, I started to have my doubts. First of all, it was scheduled for release in January—which was practically an admission that it wasn’t any good. And, second, just the thought of watching an entire movie filmed on hand-held cameras brought back bad memories of Blair Witch-induced nausea. So by the time January rolled around, my initial excitement was replaced with little more than morbid curiosity.

  
 
For the most part, Cloverfield tells a pretty simple story about a monster’s attack on New York City. Chaos erupts, and everyone ends up running through the streets, trying to find a way out. But it’s not the story that makes Cloverfield unique. It’s the storytelling. Instead of using breath-taking effects and sweeping aerial shots, Cloverfield goes for the grit. The entire thing is shown through the lens of a hand-held video camera—and through the eyes of the confused and terrified people on the streets.

The film opens with just a bit of drama—Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is taking a job in Japan. His friends are throwing him a going-away party—and Rob’s best friend, Hud (T. J. Miller), is in charge of getting the whole thing on camera. Everyone’s having a great time until Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up with a date, and Beth and Rob get into a fight over the undetermined status of their relationship.

But then the attack begins. And as New Yorkers scramble for safety, Hud holds on to the camera, determined to document the whole thing.

Sure, Cloverfield looks like it was filmed by Paul Greengrass and a whole herd of drunken monkeys. But I can overlook the motion sickness factor here because it’s all part of the plan. This isn’t supposed to be a slick Hollywood production. It’s just a home movie—and it’s done so well that it actually feels authentic.

There are just so many ingenious little details that come together make Cloverfield work. And since you never know any more about the “monster” than the characters do, it’s easy to get caught up in the panic. To top it all off, it’s mercifully short (about 75 minutes without credits), so it ends before it overstays its [shaky, nausea-inducing] welcome. Overall, I’d say that’s pretty smart (and ridiculously cheap) filmmaking.

Cloverfield’s only problem is in its timing. After the recent releases of movies like The Mist and I Am Legend, some parts of Cloverfield may almost seem old hat. But it’s unusual enough—and clever enough—to make it entertaining anyway.

Just be sure to pack your barf bag—because you’re in for a shaky ride.


DVD Review:
If you shied away from seeing Cloverfield on the big screen, fearing (with good reason) that it might make you throw up in the middle of a packed theater, you’re in luck—because it’s not nearly as vomit-inducing when viewed in the comfort of your own home. And this chilling monster movie is definitely worth checking out. In fact, it’s still one of my favorite movies of the year.

Pick up Cloverfield on DVD, and you’ll get more than just a clever monster movie that feels astonishingly authentic; you’ll also get a pretty impressive pile of features. The DVD includes two 22-minute features: a making-of feature (which gives almost a day-by-day rundown) and a feature focusing solely on the movie’s visual effects. There’s also a commentary with director Matt Reeves, as well as a handful of shorter features—two alternate endings and four deleted scenes (all with optional director commentary), an outtake reel that features a bunch of on-set goofiness, and a short feature on the creature design process.

Though there’s some overlap in the features (especially the two longer features), they present some pretty interesting information nonetheless—especially if you’re fascinated by movie magic and computer graphics. So if you love a good monster movie, don’t miss the Cloverfield DVD.

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