Cloverfield (2008)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Scenes

J.J. Abrams came up with the idea for a monster movie while shopping with his son in a Tokyo toy store. After seeing a Godzilla figure he started wondering why America didn't have its own legendary creature, especially after glancing at some of the newspapers. "Godzilla" came out ten years after Hiroshima was devastated and many believe that the giant lizard represented society's general fear of radiation. Another more recent film is from South Korea, it also has a fine looking Blu-ray presentation and is called "The Host", and in that film the real monster is man made pollution.

Produced by the creator of one of my all time favorite shows, the incredible "Lost" and of course the widely hailed "Alias" and the upcoming "Star Trek" film, J.J. Abrams has really chiseled out an uncompromising and impressive body of work, with worlds populated by believable and intelligent characters and intense plotlines that don't speak down to the audience. The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who curiously had never done anything remotely like it before, known mostly for his work (as creator) on the TV series "Felicity" and he also directed the David Schwimmer vehicle "Pallbearer" in 1996.

The film features a mostly unknown cast, which is a very good decision. The whole idea is that what we are watching is a video confiscated by the government in the area formerly known as Central Park. It is a classified document they like to call 'Project: Cloverfield', completely filmed with a DV handheld camera, and there is even some footage underneath the main story featuring Rob and his girlfriend Beth in happier times, which has been taped over. This footage reappears at various times and can be unsettling in contrast to the carnage taking place on the screen. After the opening sequence we are transported to a surprise farewell party being held for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), and his brother Jason assigns the task of filming the festivities off to Hud (T.J. Miller) who hesitantly agrees, not realizing the awesome events about to unfold. He goes around the party and films segments of everyone talking about Rob and his new promotion, and that's when all hell breaks loose, while Rob and Hud are enjoying a beer on the fire escape and talking about the relationship dramas in his life, the whole film takes a sudden and violent turn.

After hearing a series of loud explosions the panicked partygoers go to the rooftop only to have their worst fears conveyed, something has destroyed a skyscraper off in the distance, and if that isn't enough, what looks like missiles or something has branched out and caused a series of explosions closer to them than they even have time to realize. We catch glimpses of the news footage of the insanity taking place, and the footage, revisited throughout the film, is so intense and well done, just like a real newscast of a catastrophic event, this extra touch of added realism is key to the whole success the film has in making us believe a monster the size of a tall building is trampling the city into rubble. I can't even begin to tell you how many films get the newscast completely wrong and it really takes away from the emotional impact, especially since this is where most of us (the lucky ones) actually watch acts of terror and other atrocities, manmade and otherwise, take place. The film frantically moves forward and things just keep getting worse, everything retreats into chaos, and the crowd takes to the street, where an utter apocalypse is unfolding. In fact, the head of the Statue of Liberty comes flying up the street in one amazing scene.

From here we have Hud and Rob and a couple of women from the party, Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). I must add that these scenes of destruction are quite simply breathtaking, they capture the YouTube reality of this insane situation perfectly and it seems very real. The scenes are stunning and very well done. The buildings collapsing and the smoky ruins of the city in the background are completely and utterly photo realistic, and what's so amazing is the camera doesn't dwell excessively on these moments of destruction, but rather we witness them in snippets as the cameraman runs for his life, and the details look simply stunning on this Blu-ray.

In fact the Brooklyn Bridge is soon destroyed while Rob's brother is on it, but he doesn't even have time to react except to survive as madness swirls around him. He and his other three friends decide to embark towards the collapsed building of Beth, who has gotten a message to him via cell phone. From here we get to follow them on their terrifying journey, and we follow them through the dark empty subway where they are attacked by these terrifying spawn of the creature that we witnessed earlier attacking the military, which is in full battle mode. New York has become a complete battle zone, and it is completely convincing. Although it may not sound very original, the style of filming and the completely realistic destruction scenes are like nothing I have ever seen in this type of film, very effective. And all of the performances are quite convincing and very well done. These are likeable people and we get to know quite a bit about them at the very beginning because of the clever way they introduce them at the party, which helps us connect with Rob and Hud (who often provides some much needed comic relief) and the two girls as they make their way through the savaged wasteland of Manhattan towards a leaning tower where Beth is trapped. If we didn't actually like these characters the whole film wouldn't even be effective, no matter what kind of special effects they throw at us. I mean, look at the characters in "The Day After Tomorrow"; they were an example of annoying and unrealistic characters in a disaster film where the cast takes a backseat to the special effects.

"Cloverfield" is a non-stop thrill ride, and it's the type of film where you are on the edge of your seat for the duration, and you really don't have a clue who will get killed or who will make it. It's an exhilarating and chilling experience, and I'm not surprised it found a massive audience. The brilliant and mysterious marketing really paid off. J.J. Abrams is becoming a master of promotion and wraps his projects in utter secrecy. Even the recent internet leak of The Starship Enterprise seems coordinated by him, and for "Cloverfield" they really got people worked about the creature that you never really see quite clearly. Its way of not revealing the enemy except in shaky camera out of the corner of your eye is thrilling, and the news segments that we are constantly shown only add to the dread since they are so well done. Most of us get through these disasters through the news and the fact that they took the time to produce them realistically is why this movie is so effective; it's all in the details, but also in its complete lack of trying to explain any reason for the insanity. That's how it would truly be. Who is this enemy? Well, that's anyone's guess, it could be symbolism for America's global war on terror, or it could be some creature from another planet… the whole point is that some things don't need to be explained, and that's what really makes this film stand out: it simply doesn't have time to explain anything, since it is a mad dash towards survival from the beginning.

The image quality is certainly something I wondered about going in, because I knew it was supposed to look gritty and it being filmed with a handheld digital camera I simply thought perhaps it wouldn't impress me that much, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the overall image quality and consistency. If you haven't guessed yet, this film is quite dark, and Blu-ray's enhanced black level capabilities really deliver on this release and it looks far better than the DVD version. The scenes of panic and mayhem are increased by a level of detail that is superior in every way to the DVD version, which appeared a bit oversaturated. Although it still looks like it was filmed with a digital camera, it is now obvious that the camera was state of the art, because the detail is quite sharp, although it doesn't look like some of the newer films, which obviously is the whole point, since the ultra real video panic was the order of the day. They had to try quite hard to make every imperfection look believable, and even the imperfections in this transfer are chalked up to the filmmakers intention. All in all a great looking transfer. It is great to be able to notice all of the terrifying details that didn't pop out of the original DVD release, like the rats in the subway and the horrifying creatures that attacked them there.

As for the audio, you won't believe how amazingly bombastic and immersive this English 5.1 Dolby True HD track sounds. Simply amazing, and the surrounds are in constant use. This track is so thunderous and explosive that you may be concerned for the neighbors, so you may prepare to turn it down a couple of levels during the many scenes of the creatures waging their bloodthirsty campaign against the humans, and the military sounds of helicopters and gunfire are extremely aggressive. The dialogue is never drowned by the action, for the most part. The sounds of utter and complete annihilation are very well done and are stunning in their clarity. You will be quite impressed with the audio on this release, they've gone the extra mile and it really paid off.

The special features are abundant and they are all in high definition. The commentary by director Matt Reeves is interesting, but it would have been nice if J.J. Abrams would have sat down for the film also, although he has obviously moved on. Reeves is quite conversational and all in all it is a decent commentary filled with lots of stories about what a learning experience it was.

'Special Investigation mode' is a Blu-ray exclusive and is quite interesting in that it has a lot going on, including GPS tracking of the characters and a radar that keeps track of the repulsive monster as it destroys an entire city. All of this along with details about New York and all sorts of fun and interesting information, this is a pretty cool feature

'The Making Of Cloverfield' is a featurette with some interviews with cast and crew, it is fairly standard and doesn't really go very in depth, just a lot of enthusiasm and marketing. It runs about thirty minutes.

'Cloverfield: Visual Effects' is about twenty three minutes and features details about how they created the effects. I don't like these features because they explain too much and can kill the magic if you let them, but if you are a fan of effects and CGI and such then you may enjoy this 23 minute feature.

'I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!' is pretty entertaining despite its tacky title and short length. It explains the history behind this ugly nameless behemoth that is practically Lovecraftian in origin.

Also on board are about fifteen minutes worth of 'Deleted Scenes', 'Clover Fun (Outtakes)' and two 'Alternate Endings', none of which are of any real merit, and perhaps I missed something about the alternate endings. I certainly don't think they should do a sequel to this film, they will just mess it up, and if they do the shaky cam thing again, it will seem tacky, Abrams doesn't sound interested though. This film certainly shouldn't have gone on any longer, that would have been overkill. The excellent editing is a key reason this intense film doesn't wear out its welcome, that and it doesn't try to get too symbolic about the creature.

Unlike the many creature movies preceding it, "Cloverfield" doesn't seem to have an underlying political or social message, despite some of the hauntingly familiar scenes of terror and desperation. After all, some of us just want to watch a city get destroyed by a creature from the depths of hell, and in surround sound please. With "Cloverfield" it appears Americans have their own monster, and this one has unknown origins. It is simply pissed off beyond all reason, and it has chosen New York City to receive its fury, and it is the lack of any sane explanation that creates the real sense of unease, that and buildings falling from the sky and being attacked and bitten by repulsive mutants that infect you.

Probably a key reason the filmmakers were so realistic in their depiction of the cataclysmic events in New York are that they had plenty of footage to study, because in this society so oversaturated with media and the fact that seemingly everyone has a digital camera on their phone, there isn't a catastrophe out there that doesn't pop up on YouTube just minutes later: earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and shock and awe. Cloverfield isn't making any statements about society or media, it doesn't have time, it's simply a survival picture, and the scenes of disaster are what we really came to see when we sit down to watch a film such as this one. And of course it delivers the goods, especially on this outstanding Blu-ray release that recreates it's gritty look perfectly but really stands out with an audio track that is simply outstanding, and with a nice amount of features (including an exclusive). This is one that should be hard to pass up.