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Matt Reeves
Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Anjul Nigam, Margot Farley, Theo Rossi, Brian Klugman, Kelvin Yu
Writing Credits:
Drew Goddard

Some Thing Has Found Us.

Five young New Yorkers throw their friend a going-away party the night that a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city. Told from the point of view of their video camera, the film is a document of their attempt to survive the most surreal, horrifying event of their lives.

Box Office:
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$46.146 million on 3411 screens.
Domestic Gross
$79.801 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/22/2008

• Audio Commentary with Director Matt Reeves
• Deleted Scenes and Alternate Endings with Optional Commentary
• Outtakes
• “The Making of Cloverfield” Featurette
• “Cloverfield Visual Effects” Featurette
• “I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge!” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Cloverfield (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 7, 2008)

Never underestimate the power of nausea. During its opening weekend, 2008’s Cloverfield looked like it’d become a major smash. It snared $46 million over that span, a pretty remarkable sum for something released in the normally dead month of January.

And then it crashed and burned. Cloverfield made well over half its total gross during its opening weekend, as it ended up with a $79 million take in the US. That’s still pretty good for a flick with a relatively low budget of around $30 million; it clearly made a profit. However, that opening gross ramped up expectations, so a final tally of less than $80 million became a disappointment.

Some think that Cloverfield took such a big post-opening dip because of its genre film roots. This theory feels that the flick attracted the vast majority of its audience right off the bat; once they saw it, that was that. This is the same reason that so many horror films have huge openings and then go into the toilet: a limited fan base.

Maybe that’s part of it, but I’m going with the nausea factor as a prime reason for the quick decline of Cloverfield’s box office fortunes. The film was shot to look like it was done via camcorders “on the fly”, so that meant lots and lots and lots of “shakycam”. Not everyone becomes motion-sick from the active handheld work found in Paul Greengrass’s movies or The Blair Witch Project, but some of us can’t view those efforts on the big screen; they induce too much physical discomfort.

Which is why I stayed far, far away from Cloverfield during its theatrical run – and others did so as well. I really wanted to see the movie but knew that I’d literally be unable to watch more than one-fourth of the action. I had to close my eyes during much of United 93 and The Blair Witch Project but still left both with headaches and a sick stomach. Since I’d heard the shakycam of Cloverfield was even more intense, I knew I couldn’t take it.

Heck, I even saw signs outside theaters that warned patrons of the potential motion sickness, something I never witnessed with any of these other flicks. Message forums also were alive with many remarks about viewers’ nausea. I think that motion sickness word of mouth killed Cloverfield after that first weekend more than anything else.

At least I figured I’d be able to check out the flick on DVD, as smaller screens don’t give me the same oogy sensation. (Actually, I get motion-sick playing some videogames, but I’ll spare you the details.) I was happy to finally watch the movie since I’d looked forward to it ever since the clever first trailer appeared in the summer of 2007.

Cloverfield uses a Blair Witch conceit in that it consists totally of “found footage”. In this case, we go to a New York City going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), a young dude headed to Japan for a career move. His pal Hud (TJ Miller) tapes goodbye messages from revelers as well as some general happenings at the event.

A bit of a soap opera emerges due to tensions between Rob and his longtime friend Beth (Odette Yustman). The two took their platonic relationship to another level a few weeks earlier when they slept together – and Rob proceeded to totally blow off Beth. She comes to the party with a date and complications ensue.

None of that matters as much when a crisis hits NYC. First it seems like an earthquake unsettles everything, but then something more violent occurs. It turns out that a giant monster rages through town, leaving a broad path of destruction and mayhem. First Rob, Hud, Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) - chick on whom Hud maintains a crush – simply try to flee the city. This doesn’t work out well, and the situation complicates when Rob discovers that Beth is trapped in her midtown apartment. The flick traces the group’s efforts and Rob’s desire to save Beth – all while they somehow stay alive in the midst of this onslaught.

First things first: even on my 50-inch screen, Cloverfield still caused me to feel a little nauseous. Unquestionably, a viewing in a really big format would’ve been intensely unpleasant for me, so I remained relieved that I avoided it in theaters. Nonetheless, the smaller screen didn’t alleviate any motion sickness, so be forewarned if you’re sensitive to that malady.

Despite the minor discomfort the flick caused, I must admit I really dug Cloverfield. To some degree, this surprised me due to my general aversion to “shakycam”. Sure, I dislike that technique partly because it literally can make me ill, but even without the nausea, I usually think handheld camerawork is radically overused. Filmmakers utilize it for a cheap sense of “documentary” realism and it gets really stale. It just calls our attention to the lack of quality cinematography and often undercuts its goals.

In the case of Cloverfield, however, it works. I feared that the “you are there” concept would get old, and I must admit it can frustrate. Throughout the film, we rarely get a great view of events, and that can become irritating. Dammit, we want to really see what’s happening, and instead we’re often stuck with shots of someone’s shoes.

I don’t truly mind those frustrating moments, though, because the visceral realism of the amateur camcorder format actually soars. I fear that we’ll now get scores of imitators, especially since this kind of flick can be so easy to shoot. This seems like “I can do that!” style filmmaking, especially given the cheapness of digital videotape; grab a camera, shoot hours and hours and you’ve got yourself a movie!

Yes, it would be simple for anyone to make a film in the style of Cloverfield, but I think it would be very hard for them to do so this well. As I write this, I’ve not yet checked out the DVD’s extras, so I don’t know how much of the photography was formally planned and how much was improvised. I’d guess that the flick underwent much more strict organization than the onscreen results would lead one to believe. The results tell the tale too well for them all to come as happy accidents.

Actually, that leads to one minor gripe about the storytelling. During the opening scenes at the party, Cloverfield introduces the characters in a manner that seems a little too neat and expository. We need this so we can quickly get to know who’s who, but some of the dialogue feels a bit unnatural and contrived. Though I don’t mind these segments, I wish the filmmakers could have come up with a more natural method to communicate the information.

Otherwise, the flick scores with its depiction of the chaotic events. The level of verisimilitude really surprises, as the whole thing comes across as much more real than I anticipated. I figured that the “on the fly” technique would eventually wear thin and the package would feel more conventional, but that doesn’t happen. We get a real punch from the truthfulness of the events. Heck, the film even made me jump a few times, and that doesn’t happen often. I thought too many cheesy horror films made me immune to that kind of jolt, but the ones here were organic and effective.

After 9/11, all the pundits told us that violent action films were dead. People wouldn’t want to experience onscreen mayhem after the horrible real-life events. Not only were those predictions incorrect, but also matters have veered well into territory that would’ve seemed unimaginable in the fall of 2001. Back then films about 9/11 felt unfathomable, but we had big-time features in multiplexes less than five years after the terrorist events.

While Cloverfield doesn’t directly address the tragedy of 9/11, it clearly consciously evokes them via its action. Again, since I’ve not checked out the extras, I don’t know if the filmmakers address this, but as you watch the flick, there can be no question that what happened in New York in 2001 strongly influenced the material here. Among other all-too-familiar sights, we see buildings collapse and dust clouds chase panicked citizens down streets. On those occasions, the film does almost feel like a documentary, but not one about a giant monster.

Cloverfield could’ve connected to 9/11 in a manner that seems crass and insulting, but I think it narrowly manages to straddle the line between chilling evocation and cheap exploitation. Indeed, the memories of 9/11 give Cloverfield even more of an impact. The onscreen mayhem doesn’t reside in a fantasy realm; we’ve seem this before, albeit due to less fantastic causes. This subtext adds to the power of the flick and adds drama.

Chalk up Cloverfield as a genuinely clever and involving monster movie. I don’t know if it reinvents a genre, as essentially it’s Godzilla crossed with Blair Witch. Nonetheless, it does most things right and becomes a scary and powerful piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Cloverfield appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film’s videotaped roots meant the picture didn’t excel, but I thought it looked quite good within those constraints.

Sharpness usually seemed solid. The shooting style meant lots and lots of out of focus elements, but those had nothing to do with the transfer itself. The DVD featured delineation that was perfectly appropriate for the various shots. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws also remained absent; I saw some video artifacts in low-light scenes, but those were inevitable.

Given the videotape origins, colors tended to be bland. The movie usually made things look somewhat brown, which made sense within the format. Though the hues never seemed memorable, they were fine for what I expected. Along the same path, blacks tended to be somewhat wan, while shadows usually appeared a bit opaque and dense.

All those criticisms and I still gave the image a “B+”? Yeah, that might not sound consistent, but this was an instance in which the objective reality didn’t match the subjective impression. Due to its “on the fly” video format, I honestly thought Cloverfield would look terrible, but most of the time it offered very nice visuals. This was a much more pleasing presentation than I expected, so I felt a “B+” was appropriate.

I found it tough to rate the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Cloverfield for somewhat similar reasons, though the audio had a bit of a split personality. The mix was more active than I expected, which may actually have been a negative. Through the flick, the filmmakers slavishly adhered to the “fly on the wall” video photography; there’s not a single shot that didn’t look like it came from a camcorder. However, the multichannel audio violated that sense of realism.

The soundfield didn’t go completely nuts, as much of the material stayed within the stereo realm in the front channels. This was acceptable as a representation of what a consumer camcorder might replicate. Indeed, the mixers took pains to give speech the same messy blending to the sides that would come with a real camcorder. In terms of the front three speakers, I thought the track matched the “real-life photography” conceit pretty well.

So why did the filmmakers decide to break the realism with so much material from the surrounds? That choice was satisfying in terms of movie enjoyment but still seemed inappropriate since there was no way a consumer camcorder would offer stereo surround information. The track integrated the back speakers well, and I thought the mix left a very good impression of all the mayhem, but I was a bit disappointed the film dropped the ball when it came to attempted auditory realism.

Audio quality definitely violated the camcorder sensibility as well. Speech mostly came across like it could’ve been recorded on a video camera, but effects often came across in a broader way. The track mixed “camcorder-ish” audio with big Hollywood sound; most of the monster-related stuff was definitely in the latter realm. (Note that to continue with the camcorder feel, no score appeared during the film – not until the end credits, at least.)

While I kind of wish the movie had gone with a more “you are there” soundtrack, I did feel impressed with what I heard. Effects added real impact to the presentation, as they were loud, clear and impressive. Bass response seemed deep and rich, with strong thump at the right times. Even though it violated the film’s sense of realism, I still felt this was a dynamic mix that worked well for the story.

Cloverfield comes supplied with plenty of extras. We begin with an audio commentary from director Matt Reeves. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that examines the origins of the project and how he got involved, cinematography and working within the camcorder concept, casting, rehearsals and performances, the project’s script and its secrecy, locations and sets, music, sound and effects, influences, budgetary and time restrictions, and a few other filmmaking subjects.

From start to finish, Reeves gives us a terrific commentary. He digs into a wide mix of production topics and does so with gusto. Reeves gets into the whole experience well and helps make this a strong discussion that teaches us a lot about the flick.

Document 1.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield runs 28 minutes, 16 seconds as it combines movie clips, shots from the set and interviews. We hear from Reeves, producers JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk, camera operator Christopher Hayes, editor Kevin Stitt, executive producer Sherryl Clark, special effects coordinator David Waine, 1st assistant cameraman Wally Sweeterman, special effects supervisor Josh Hakian, animal trainer Tom Gunderson, animatronic effects supervisor Andrew Clement, visual effects supervisor Kevin Blank, assistant technical advisor Tom Minder, director of photography Michael Bonvillain, stunt coordinator Rob King, production designer Martin Whist, 2nd AD Katie Carroll, and actors Brian Klugman, Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Michael Stahl-Davis, Margot Farley, TJ Miller, Lizzy Caplan, and Odette Yustman. “Document” examines the flick’s genesis and themes, camerawork, what Reeves brought to the project and Abrams’ impact on it, various effects, sets and locations, attempts at realism, performance challenges, and stunts.

“Document” works more like a production diary than a traditional “making of” feature. It rushes through the various topics and emphasis elements from the shoot. Since Reeves already covers so many of these topics in depth during his commentary, I don’t mind their more superficial treatment here, and the behind the scenes glimpses more than compensate. This becomes a good program.

Two more featurettes ensue. Cloverfield Visual Effects goes for 22 minutes, 29 seconds and includes Reeves, Abrams, Blank, Burk, Bonvillain, Stitt, Whist, Clark, visual effects producer Chantal Feghali, Double Negative visual effects supervisor Michael Ellis, Double Negative computer graphics supervisor David Vickery, Double Negative Maya technical director Diego Trazzi, Double Negative lead technical director Dalia Al-Husseini, Double Negative effects technical director Pawel Grochola, Double Negative senior technical director Phil Johnson, Third Floor pre-visualization supervisor Nicholas Markel, Tippett Studio visual effects producer Annie Pomeranz, Tippett Studio digital matte painter Ben Von Zastrow, Tippett Studio layout and matchmove supervisor Devin Breese, Tippett Studio animation supervisor Tom Gibbons, Double Negative matchmove supervisor Sam Schwier, Tippett Studio lead FX animator Joseph Hamdorf, Double Negative effects artist Adrian Thompson, Tippett Studio compositing supervisor Chris Morley, Tippett Studio Clover 3D texture painter August Dizon, and Tippett Studio character setup and rigging artist Eric Jeffrey.

Through this program, we examine all of the flick’s effects challenges and see how the filmmakers melded computer artistry with the physical elements. The show avoids becoming too dry via its quick pace. It offers many more good behind the scenes images and gives us a great deal of solid information.

I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge! lasts five minutes, 50 seconds and presents Abrams, Burk, Reeves, lead creature designer Neville Page, and Tippett Studio visual effects supervisor Eric Leven. “Huge” looks at the design of the movie’s creature and related elements. The program seems a little brief, and I’d have liked to see some alternate/abandoned concepts. Nonetheless, it goes through things reasonably well.

An outtake reel called Clover Fun fills three minutes, 57 seconds. It shows goofing around on the set, mostly from the party or Beth/Rob “prologue”. Those bits aren’t too interesting, but I like the closing images of a streetlight that falls really, really slowly.

Next we find four Deleted Scenes and two Alternate Endings. These include “Congrats Rob” (0:24), “When You’re In Japan” (1:25), “I Call That a Date” (0:45), “It’s Going to Hurt” (0:58), “Alternate Ending 1” (2:08) and “Alternate Ending 2” (2:25). The first two deleted scenes offer more testimonials from the party; they’re amusing but insubstantial. “Date” offers a comedic glimpse of Hud’s crush on Marlena, while “Hurt” reminds us of Lily’s pain as the flick’s action progresses. I’d have liked to see the few additional seconds of “Date” included – most of its 45 seconds include material in the final film – but the others seem extraneous.

As for the “Alternate Endings”, neither changes what happens to the surviving characters during the monster attack; those elements remain essentially the same for these as they do in the final film. For the first, we get a different coda from the pre-attack footage of Rob and Beth. The second uses the same coda but adds a very brief glimpse of someone who finds the camera after the assault. Neither betters the conclusion to the released movie.

We can view all of these with or without commentary from Reeves. He tells us a little about the scenes as well as why he cut them. Reeves continues to be informative and enjoyable.

A few ads launch the DVD. We get promos for Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. These also appear in the disc’s Previews area. No trailer for Cloverfield shows up here.

My only complaint about Cloverfield relates to the mild motion sickness with which it left me. Otherwise I really liked this clever and exciting action flick. It could’ve been little more than a gimmicky piece of nonsense, but instead it soars. The DVD provides perfectly acceptable picture and audio along with a very nice collection of extras. I really dig this movie, so I strongly recommend it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.1212 Stars Number of Votes: 33
3 3:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main