I know it's not original, but it is very accurate: Take a diakaiju (giant monster) film add The Blair Witch Project and shake. What do you get? Cloverfield. It's one of those love-it-or-loath-it movies, much like Blair Witch itself, which polarizes viewers. While I could see where someone wouldn't like it, I thought it was masterfully done and a great new take on monster films. The Blu-ray version looks great and sounds even better and is the version of choice for fans of this movie.
Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is being promoted to VP in his company, and that position means a transfer from NYC to Japan. So his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and friends Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Hud (T.J. Miller) decide to throw Rob a going away party. Hud is given a camcorder to record testimonials and basically save the evening for posterity, but his real motivation to recording things is to get close to Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). Things go badly at the party when Rob's ex-girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up with another guy and ends up pissing Rob off before leaving in a huff. That doesn't ruin the party, though less than an hour later a something happens that does: A skyscraper in midtown Manhattan explodes, sending flying balls of burning debris through the air and into Rob's apartment. Running outside, the group gets to the street just in time to see the head from the Statue of Liberty come bouncing and tumbling down the street. Caught only through brief glimpses, it appears that a giant monster is attacking New York.
Soon after the initial attack Rob gets a call on his cell. It's Beth who says that she's trapped in her apartment and can't move. Though they are supposed to evacuate, Rob decides that he'd rather rescue the girl he shouldn't have blown off. Along with Jason, Lily, Marlena and Hud, he travels across Manhattan to find Beth who may already be dead.
This entire movie is told from the point of view of the camera Hud's holding. This means that there are jerky, vertigo-inducing scenes along with abrupt cuts and amateur-looking editing. I know people who hate this style, and while it doesn't always work, it fits in perfectly with this film. The first person perspective puts the viewer right in the middle of the action, which is what the creators intended. It's almost like you're there with them, rather than taking a third person omniscient point of view.
Another aspect that really helps put the viewers right in the film is that most of the events of the evening aren't explained. Just as the main characters have no idea what is attacking, what it can do, or why it's there, the viewers are likewise left in the dark. This helps build the suspense and tension, and though many (if not all) of those questions are never answered directly in the film, it almost doesn't matter. While going on a journey across Manhattan with this group of people you become interested in them. The reason that set the plot in motion, the MacGuffin as Hitchcock used to call it, isn't important as long as it's there.
Of course any movie that has a giant monster attacking a large metropolitan city will always be compared to the Godzilla films. The genius of this movie, something so simple that it's surprising someone didn't think of it until now, is that it turned the tables on the point of view. Diakaiju films always take either the point of view of the monster or, more commonly, the little kid who discovers what the monster is looking for and is able to make the Army generals listen to him. The viewers have all of the information that's available, and they know just what's going on the whole time. This film follows some poor people who are in the monster's path. They have no illusions about fighting it or gaining information, they just want to survive. It's that different point of view that makes this movie feel fresh and new and why it works so well.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This film comes with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that looks better than I expected it too. The movie was mainly filmed on "prosumer" HD cameras and because of that there's a lot of digital noise in some parts, especially in low light situations. This is what the creators wanted, to get a realistic feel to the film, but it doesn't sound like anything that would be really improved by a HD transfer, right? Wrong. This looks very good, and it's a significant improvement over its SD counterpart.
One of the first things that I noticed was the high level of detail in the film, especially in the rubble strewn streets. The gigantic chunks of cement and the head off of the Statue of Liberty had well defined edges and a wonderful amount of texture. You could see the hair on the rats running through the subway tunnel as well as the dirt on the soldier's uniforms. Colors were nice with accurate flesh tones and blacks were nice and solid. This movie is dark and intentionally gloomy, so there isn't a lot of eye-pop, but its still a nice looking disc.
Simply put this is one of my favorite discs when it comes to the quality of the soundtrack. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is really impressive. There whole soundstage is used throughout the film to accent the action. The action scenes are fantastic, with the whole room filling with sound, but it's more than just a wall of noise. There's directionality in even the busiest sequences, aurally speaking, with blocks from tenement buildings crashing on the street on the same side of the room as the action on screen, and cruise missiles panning from rear to front while people are screaming. The audio engineer didn't forget about the sub-woofer either, as mine got a very good workout. The first time soldiers engage the monster the battle starts off with small arms fire. A tank soon rumbles into the picture, rattling windows both on the screen and in my living room. When its cannon fires the effect is so loud and powerful that you can almost feel it. And that's nothing compared to the noise the monster makes as it crashes through town.
While I was impressed with the action parts the sedate sequences sounded good too. The dialog was easy to hear and understand and even the more quite parts, like when the group is traveling in the subway, had a good amount of subtle surround effects. One final point is that there is no musical soundtrack to this film, something that adds to the 'you're right there' feel of the movie.
Paramount certainly handled this high def release right. Some other studios should take lessons from them. First of all, all of the bonus features from the SD DVD have been ported over. That should be a no-brainer, but all too often things are left off. Next, they had a HD release in mind when they created the extras, because they're all in high-def. Woo-hoo! Add to that a BR exclusive pop-up video track that's actually pretty good (more on that later) and you've got a solid set of bonus materials.
First off is a commentary track with director Matt Reeves that I enjoyed. He doesn't get too technical or dry, and he manages to talk about the origin of the project, producer J.J. Abrams' involvement, and the characters in the film. He also relates some interesting anecdotes about the shoot. Well worth a listen to.
There are two roughly half hour featurettes included; The Making of Cloverfield and Cloverfield Visual Effects. I found both of these interesting and they had more information that a standard EPK does, though some of the information is repeated in the commentary track. The first one features an interview with J.J. Abrams as he talks about coming up with the idea while visiting Japan, as well as talks with the cast and director. There's some interesting things revealed and fans of the movie will want to check this out. The second featurette, as one would expect from the title, deals with some of the special effects shots in the film such as the bombing run and the subway scene. Another above average featurette that is interesting and informative.
The shorter extras are also worth watching. First is I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!, a six-minute look at the creation of the monster. This doesn't only talk about coming up with the design for the creature, but it also explains its behavior and why it's acting the way it does. This is a very nice piece that will make you see parts of the movie in a new light. The four deleted scenes (with optional commentary by the director) were so-so and were rightfully cut, and the same can be said of the two alternate endings, which weren't significantly different. There's also a four minute gag-reel Cloverfun.
Finally there's the Special Investigation Mode, an option that lets viewers read trivia facts in a window while tracking the characters, the monster, and the armed forces on a map of NYC. I find a lot of the Profile 1.1 pop-up tracks intrusive, but mode was actually enjoyable and added something to the viewing experience.
Though not everyone will like it, this new take on an old genre comes across as refreshing and original. With some great action scenes and some real tension, it's an enjoyable ride. The Blu-ray disc looks great too, but even more impressive is the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which ranks up there as one of the best of the year. A film that's unlike most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood, this monster movie is Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.