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Cloverfield (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/22/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video:
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/15/2008; Updated 1/22/2018

Typically, the pitch for a movie is much better than the movie itself, as it promises attributes that the final film rarely possesses. However, if you had told me the pitch, "It's Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project", I not only would have passed, I would have run away screaming. There hasn't been a truly good Godzilla film...well, ever...and many filmgoers still feel deceived by Roland Emmerich's 1998 version. The Blair Witch Project was simply a giant hype machine and when I finally saw the film I was left very disappointed and very nauseous. And yet, this odd pairing is the best way to describe Cloverfield, which depicts a monster attack through the lens of a home video camera. The movie comes from TV mastermind J.J. Abrams and demonstrates that attention to detail can help deliver a winning film.

The primary conceit of Cloverfield is similar to that of Cannibal Holocaust or The Blair Witch Project in that at the beginning, we are told that what we are about to watch is "found footage". The title cards state that the camera was found in the location formerly known as Central Park. The footage then introduces us to twentysomethings Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman), who live in New York City. The story then jumps ahead a month, where we see Rob's brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), and his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), planning a surprise going-away party for Rob, who is leaving for Japan to take on a new job. At the party, the camera (which is capturing all of this) is handed off to Hud (T.J. Miller) who is told to get testimonials from the party guests. Hud is glad to do this, as it gives him a chance to talk to Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). Soon Rob arrives at the party, and Hud continues to capture everything.

Suddenly, an explosion is heard in the distance and the lights flicker. The party-goers head for the roof, where they can see explosions in the distance. When shrapnel begins to rain down on them, the group moves to the street and are shocked to see skyscrapers falling in the distance. Rob, Jason, Lily, and Marlena then try to find their way out of Manhattan to escape the devastation. They soon learn that a giant monster has invaded the city and is wreaking havoc. We then see this group struggle to survive as the monsterís rampage sends the city spiraling into upheaval.

When we learn that a movie has been shot on a hand-held video camera, our pre-conceived notions tell us that the movie is going to be cheap and most likely random. Cloverfield is here to destroy those notions. Yes, the movie was shot using an HD camera and it was all shot handheld, but the movie never looks cheap. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of the film is how seamless the special effects are. We see the characters running down a street and there is suddenly a hulking monster standing in their way, and it all looks real. It's simply amazing how the camera is always moving and yet the creature effects or exploding buildings look realistic. Cloverfield also benefits from the fact that the story is so well planned. Clearly writer Drew Goddard, director Matt Reeves, and producer J.J. Abrams put a great deal of thought into the structure of the story and once the action starts (about 18 minutes into the movie), it rarely lets up. This isn't simply a movie of people running around willy-nilly with a video camera. The jumps and scares are perfectly timed. Take the scene where the characters are in the street and suddenly find themselves caught in a crossfire between the creature and the military. This moment exemplifies the work and money which went into this project.

It would also be easy to assume that a movie of this nature has no real story. Again, Cloverfield defies expectations. As noted above, it takes about 18 minutes for the monster to arrive. While the anticipation can be excruciating (assuming that you know what's coming), this time allows the viewer the chance to get to know the characters. If we didn't get a feel for who Rob, Lily, Jason, Beth, Hud, and Marlena were, then the rest of the film would mean nothing. Due to the fact that we've come to know these characters, their plight actually means something. The script also injects some much needed levity throughout the story, keeping the proceedings from becoming overwhelming.

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from Cloverfield, but like so many film fans, I was intrigued by the movie's sneaky marketing campaign. What I found was a movie which went far beyond any other "shot on video" film. The movie is incredibly well-made and the special effects are dazzling. One thing that I definitely didn't expect was the overall menacing tone of the movie. In interviews, Abrams has said that he wanted to make an American version of Godzilla. (This movie is certainly light years ahead of Roland Emmerich's 1998 stinkfest.) But, I've never found Godzilla threatening because I always felt that he was simply a big lizard who wandered into town. I don't want to give too much away here, but the monster in Cloverfield clearly appears to be on the offensive and it's intent on killing people. This results in some very tense scenes and at least three moments which will make you jump. In a time when nothing seems original, Cloverfield has managed to redefine the look of movies and provide us with a new, scary monster.

Cloverfield stomps onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Judging by some comments from Director Matt Reeves, the digital images from the video camera were transferred directly to film. This has resulted in a transfer which looks very good. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain. Now, given the nature of the movie, there are moments where lights shine directly into the camera, causing "burnout" and the shaking of the camera causes pixellation, but these aren't meant to be there. Otherwise, there are no defects from the source material. The colors look fine and only in some scenes is the image overly dark. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. You certainly won't feel that the movie is cheap once you hear this soundtrack. The explosions and stomping of the monster create a very deep and effective subwoofer response. The stereo effects are very good. The surround sound effects are nearly constant once the attack starts and from the explosions to the jets flying overhead to the bellowing of the creature, we feel as if we are in the middle of the action. If you watch this film without surround sound, you will be missing a great part of the experience.

The Cloverfield DVD contains a variety of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Matt Reeves. This is a good commentary, as Reeves shares a great deal of information about the making of the film. He talks about the script and the preparation for shooting the movie. He discusses the casting of the film and the way in which it was shot. He also discloses where certain scenes were shot and how the special effects were integrated. "Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield" (28 minutes) is a very in-depth examination of the film's production. We see how the film was shot using handheld video cameras and how some of it was shot with the characters acting against green-screens. We then see how various locations and sets were utilized to recreate New York. The piece shows us how several key scenes were done. The last few minutes show that some work was done in New York City. "Cloverfield Visual Effects" (22 minutes) explains how some of the effects on the film were created. The piece looks at specific scenes from the movie and shows how various elements were layered to create the illusion. "I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!" (6 minutes) contains a lot of comments from Neville Page, as he describes the creation of the design of the monster. "Clover Fun" (4 minutes) is simply a blooper reel. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Director Matt Reeves. All of these are very brief and don't add anything new. The disc also holds two ALTERNATE ENDINGS, which can be viewed with commentary by Reeves, but they are both very similar to the ending from the film, and don't change the meaning of anything.

On June 3, 2008, Paramount Home Entertainment brought Cloverfield to Blu-ray Disc.  The film is again letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps.  As one would expect, the image contains some noise and grain, keeping with the "homemade" look, but otherwise the image is very sharp and clear.  The opening scenes (at the party) are very clear and the colors here look great.  Once the action moves outside, the image remains stable, although it is a tad dark at times (again, this is to be expected).  In fact, this transfer may look too good to those who really appreciate the gritty, realistic look of the movie.  The Blu-ray offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track, which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps.  Once volume adjustments are made, this track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The stereo effects are quite good, and we really get the sense of people running down the street.  During the attack sequences, the surround and subwoofer effects are excellent, making the film feel all the more realistic.  The Cloverfield DVD was very solid, but the Blu-ray is the way to go here.

The Blu-ray Disc contains all of the extras found on the DVD, plus one more.  "Special Investigative Mode" shows the movie in a small frame.  To the left of the frame is a map of Manhattan which shows the location of the humans and the "Large Scale Agressor" during the film (but it's not always accurate).  Below the frame is a display which shows facts about New York City and the monster. 

UPDATE:

On January 23, 2018, Paramount Home Entertainment released Cloverfield on 4K UHD.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps.  The image is sharp and clear, showing the intended "found footage" defects of mild grain and pixellation.  If these defects were obvious on the Blu-ray Disc, they are amplified here.  Is it awful or distracting?  No, but it does make one wonder if a movie which was meant to look like a home video was meant to be shown in this sort of resolution.  There is no doubt that this is probably the best that Cloverfield is ever going to look, but it really doesn't look that much better than the Blu-ray Disc.  So, for casual fans, an upgrade will be questionable.  The level of detail is good and the depth is good.  The crowning achievement of this 4K transfer is how well it handles the dark nature of this movie.  The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The good news is that this is a muscular, powerful track.  The bad news is that it's basically the same one which was found on the Blu-ray Disc 10 years ago.  A Dolby Atmos track would have been a great way to celebrate the film's 10th anniversary. 

The extra features on the 4K UHD are the same as those found on the Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2008/2018 by Mike Long