STUDIO: Paramount
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 84 Minutes

  • Commentary
  • Additional Scenes
  • Featurettes
  • Alternate Endings
  • Motion Sickness

The Pitch

Manhattan gets its ass handed to it. Again. This time the terror comes in the form of 350 feet of spindly limbed fury as a monster rises to cut a swath of destruction assisted by tiny little parasitic accomplices. Luckily there’s a handful of young people with a video camera to document it.

The Humans

Director: Matt Reeves

Writer: Drew Goddard

Cinematographer: Robert Elswit

Cast: Michael Stahl-David. Mike Vogel. Chris Mulkey. Jessica Lucas. Lizzy Kaplan. Odette Yustman. Cloverfield.

The Nutshell

Cloverfield is an oddity of a film but something that for a spell totally gave a goose to the public consciousness and allowed a monster movie to happen without any real winking or nudging required. An impressive feat. Of course, most of the people I know who didn’t know what they were getting into hated the film. Whether it was the shaky camera or the fact they couldn’t buy the idea of a giant monster attacking today’s world [!], it wasn’t for them.

I wish I was allowed to do spinning kicks at people sometimes. If I could do spinning kicks, that is.

The Lowdown

What follows is my annotated theatrical review:

It’s hard out there for a pimp, especially if that pimp
happens to be a monster movie with theatrical aspirations. Monster
movies have long been the black sheep of the horror genre and though
their fans are among the most loyal and vocal there’s still the stigma
of the concept that makes it difficult for a film about a giant
rampaging creature to be palatable for a theatrical crowd. Shame on us
as a society for that but luckily for us J.J. Abrams, Matt Reeves, and
Drew Goddard have found a way to sneak an honest to goodness monster
movie [and it really is] through the system and onto theater screens in a way that just
might remind audiences of the visceral joy of seeing something large
and unstoppable having their way with all we hold dear. [And I think part of the problem is that people are far too cynical to just accept the idea of a giant monster movie, though The Host seemed to cross over decently, though I think part of the problem with that was the fact that it had a cool monster and concept but was a little hamstrung by some of the plotting. That said, this film and The Host are good companion pieces to one another.]

is a lot of things. The title alone has become somewhat of a divisive
and loaded word. Is it a marketing smokescreen, an inside joke by the
folks at the Bad Robot [the production company manned by J.J. Abrams]
offices, or the seed to some larger mystery to be revealed onscreen
when the movie finally reaches its now salivating audience?

It’s nothing. And everything.

is the security blanket that protects the entire concept of the giant
monster movie. It plants the seed, creating an inner doubt that what is
to transpire onscreen might not even be a monster movie. For some
reason we’re more apt to believe in an alien invasion [which has to be the truth in retrospect or else there wouldn’t be that moment in the film (my screen grab below) of something large and terrifying slamming into the sea. I kind of like that they don’t explain it but I think the only way to go with a sequel is to have more than one creature land this time. We need to see monsters duking it out.], a super storm
with a penchant for popular landmarks, or terrorism’s latest weapon
over the gauche and simple idea of a large beast as the villain du
jour. With a name like Monstrous, The Terror That Rose From Beneath With a Bad Attitude, or Big Ass People Smasher
there’s still the possibility of the knee-jerk reaction of an audience
member whose inner child has long since been supressed causing them to
pony up for The Bucket List at that last moment in the decisionmaking process but in the grand scheme, a sappy feel-good dramedy probably is more harmful to the soul than the large force at the center of Cloverfield.

the hype can now take a back seat, the mystery of the title can take a
back seat, and my fear that the film would drop the ball can take a
back seat to the reality of Cloverfield:
it is an intense and wholly successful monster movie. No bullshit. This
is a monster movie and it means to knock you on your ass. [It holds up surprisingly well upon a second and third viewing.]

The premise is that something has happened to New York
City and the destruction is total. What has happened has been cobbled
together from a variety of sources of evidence, one of which being a
tape culled from the scene, a tape which makes up for 100% of the film.
As a result, Cloverfield
in its entirety is a handheld point-of-view movie. There’s no cutting
away to other accounts, the subjects captured onscreen are not
performing for the camera, and the monster itself isn’t the star of the
film. It’s a high concept way to approach the idea, and it’s pretty
much the main reason this film has such a chance of opening the
floodgates to a new dawn of big screen monster mayhem. That said, the
frame is shaky and there’s not a surplus of money shots so a good
portion of the film’s thrills come from the idea of the world being
ripped out from under the protagonists of the film rather than intimate
confrontations with the large, formerly aquatic villain of the piece.

Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) [who yes, is annoying and pussywhipped to a fault, though have you seen Odette Yustman?] is leaving New York City for a job abroad
and his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his friends Lily (Jessica Lucas)
and Hud (T.J. Miller) are giving him a proper send-off, recording the
party and the build-up preceding it. Rob’s kind of a flake, running
away from the woman (the simply gorgeous Odette Yustman)
who he’s afraid to admit his true feelings to and ruining his chance at
the party to patch things up lends the party a solemn vibe. That solemn
vibe becomes an understatement when a tanker explodes in the harbor and
something large starts tearing shit up as it makes its way right
towards the apartment where Rob’s party is. Madness ensues and the film
gets to its macabre business.

Much has been said by reviewers about how unlikable the human characters of Cloverfield are
and while I certainly found them to be grating at times, this is not a
tale of heroes. There’s no brilliant scientist at the core of this
story trying to outwit the monster or find its weak spot. There’s no
leader of men who takes charge and saves the day. These are kids,
typically annoying and scatterbrained people in their early 20’s trying
to figure out what to do with their lives let alone the kind of
protagonists we’re used to seeing in a movie like this. Many see it as
a weakness, but I’m of the mind that by focusing on these folks the
film maintains its balance and comes across as a matter of fact rather
than some neat idea shoehorned into a chassis that the PG-13 crowd is
willing to buy tickets to. These kids make stupid decisions. They lose
focus and it costs them. They’re led by their emotions rather than
logic. For me it works fine and to my surprise I was actually moved
when one of the main characters was dealt their ultimate comeuppance by
the many dangers inherent in Cloverfield.

Another popular opinion is that director Matt Reeves
(who does a really fantastic job, working from Drew Goddard’s script)
has created yet another 9/11 allegory here and while that’s true to
some extent due to the locale and the scenes that are very evocative of
the terrorist attacks there’s also the reality that this kind of
monster movie was originally born of the attacks on Japan of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. Mankind’s tampering and warmongering is typically at the
center of films in this subgenre and though no explanation is given
here I think that 9/11 is the easiest and most obvious metaphor for
this kind of destruction so close to home, but it’s important to
remember that America is only the latest in a long line of cities which
fell victim to wholesale destruction like this and a lot of popular
culture has been seasoned by those wounds. Monster movies and
cataclysmic real-life events go hand in hand and whatever gets a
particular viewer through the day metaphorically is up to them.

The bottom line is that it works.

is intense, scary, and effective as a genre film as well as a disaster
film, which is no easy feat. The monster is brutal and thankfully free
of a particular agenda and there are more scenes involving the main
creature or its smaller parasites [who are for the most part rather useless and it requires a little willful disbelief to think that they wouldn’t have made short work of the lead characters during the subway attack.] than I expected. There’s no cheating,
and though it seems the creature enjoys sticking close to our
protagists [which is a little convenient at times], I found the monster
lover in me quite satisfied both with the creature’s design and
execution. The bulk of the special effects are quite good and there’s
no shortage of onscreen destruction. It’s a PG-13 movie so there’s not
a lot of actual gore and not the kind of frank profanity that would
occur in a situation like this but the checks and balances teeter
favorably towards the positive here. It’s easy to project what we want
in a film like this onto the end result but the business of film and
the hurdles it takes to get a theatrical movie made have to intersect
at some point and I personally don’t need rivers of human blood to know
that the creature is winning the fight. [Not that I don’t absolutely love onscreen rivers of human blood…]

That said, I want
whatever camcorder Hud and friends used. It has an amazing battery
life, effective night vision, and enough of a housing to survive great
falls, helicopter crashes, and spurts of blood, sweat, and bile. It
even has the ability to try to use autofocus after a monster attack.
There’s a metaphor for you. Half a century after their own catastrophe
led Godzilla to their shores, the Japanese have come back hard with a
product perfect to capture America’s own big monster invasion!

not a perfect movie and I wonder what the replay value will be since
it’s an atypical narrative, but the bottom line is that Cloverfield
is a success on nearly every front and a film I urge people to see in a
theater opening weekend. It’s going to be a memorable event, though I
feel for folks who have to sit in the front row. With all the hype and
speculation behind us I’m proud to say that they pulled it off.

This is one hell of a ride.

[Upon seeing the film again and watching the special features and the great work that went into the making of this film I’m glad to say it’s not just a gimmick movie whose time and place in culture deserves to be isolated to January of 2008. It’s a winner and if they do decide to revisit I really hope it goes from being a disaster story to full-on monster on monster action and I don’t even give a shit if it’s handheld again. In fact, it might be neat if the whole movie is assembled from folks who teeter too close to the action to capture the battle. if you think about it, having survived a monster attack, the citizenry would be more interested in it, less baffled and chaotic. They’d want to see it firsthand, capitalize on it. Document it. Why not make a second Cloverfield comprised of all different clips from the cameras of onlooker, some of which get too close and whose demise we see from the perspective of the next onlooker’s camera. Either way, this movie still holds up.]

The Package

The press DVD screener came in this awesome Professional Beta case marked up as if some governmental issue accidentally wound up in my mailbox, which is cool. I later got a disposable Cloverfield camera in a separate package and though the public won’t be getting these, there’s quite a few really cool alternate DVD covers out there depending on where you shop.

The special features are excellent. Truly excellent. Other than Zodiac and the big box sets from the holiday season, there haven’t been many recent DVD releases that wowed me. This one doesn’t have a lot of lengthy features (aside from the commentary, dum dum) but they’re very well done and thankfully loaded with information.

I was a little worried that they’d not show their cards even on the DVD as to the monster design and the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking but thankfully they don’t hold back. You find out why, where, how, and which in terms of the nitty gritty. That’s important, because when you peel back the veneer of the film it has to be structurally sound and I was truly surprised about how much thought and depth went into this thing. It’s quite impressive. The monster design, when looked at more closely, isn’t the best thing in the world but it’s interesting to see how it came into being and what they were trying to pull off.

J.J. Abrams has a quote on here that pretty much makes him a legend to me, at the very least someone after my own heart. Paraphrased:

“Take a genre. Add Monster. Equals my favorite movie ever.”


Even the folks who didn’t get into the film will enjoy the special features and Reeves’ commentary is informative and fun and continuous. Not a lot of long pauses. Also, it’s nice to see him as a guy with his own mind and not just an Abrams acolyte.

Yeah, buy this.

8.7 out of 10