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Blu-ray Review: Cloverfield

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I know I already reviewed this film two months ago, and declared myself less than impressed with it. However, after hearing friends repeatedly tell me I missed the point of the entire movie and it was indeed one of the best monster movies to come out in a long time, I wondered if maybe I fell asleep when I watched the standard DVD release and just didn’t realize it. Anyway, just a few weeks ago, I got my first Blu-ray DVD player and have been revisiting some old titles in the new format. As it happens, Cloverfield was released on Blu-ray on June 3, 2008 so I decided to give the movie another shot.

When I first saw Cloverfield a couple of months ago, I felt like the storyline had been recycled from countless higher quality monster films. For me, films like Godzilla and It Came From Beneath the Sea posses better story structure than Cloverfield could ever hope to achieve. Writer Drew Goddard (Lost) and director Matt Reeves (Felicity) developed characters with so little personality, I found it very hard to care whether they lived or died. One thing is for sure: the filmmakers have created an unusual film, and the incredible sound and improved visual effects on Paramount’s Blu-ray release allowed me to enjoy the film much more the second time around.

Clovrfield_Still_PK_C-FX-00023.jpgAfter watching Cloverfield on blu-ray, I think it’s still safe to say that the film is good example of style over substance. No matter how much the picture pops out at you, the plot is still seriously thin. Some kind of creature attacks New York and we follow a group of almost faceless people as they attempt to survive the creature’s relentless assault. Further, the film is really a gimmick. Supposedly, the characters shot the film themselves with a handheld digital camera, which was found by the Department of Defense after the events took place.

The characters are: Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a New Yorker about to move to Japan for a new job, his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), his girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman), his buddy Hud (T.J. Miller), and friends Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). All of them except Beth are at a going-away party in the city when the monster attacks, and Rob’s only concern when the event happens is to get across town to Beth and make sure she’s OK, with the other friends coming along.

In the DVD commentaries, the filmmakers make no bones about the fact that they took their ideas from other monster flicks to create Cloverfield. They also used a fairly small budget like a lot of monster movies of the past, requiring them to cut corners whenever possible. Most noticeable is the fact that viewers don’t get to see the creature until well into the movie, and even then it’s only part of it, in a brief glimpse. If you think back to films such as King Kong, the audience never saw the great ape until well into the picture either; however, once we got to see Kong, we were given a pretty good view of him. Yet in Cloverfield, we are never given a real good, close-up look at the monster. While this tactic may be good for building up tension in the film, some viewers are bound to feel cheated by the lack of real exposure to the predator.

It was the herky-jerky camera work of Cloverfield that turned me off most each time I watched this film. Early on in the picture, Jason asks Hud to film Rob’s party and he takes the responsibility very seriously. Even after the creature attacks, Hud keeps the camera rolling in an attempt to capture everything. The problem is that he is a terrible videographer, so the film doesn’t stop moving for one solitary second. While some may argue that the film’s shakiness accurately captures the terror of the events, I just found myself annoyed by the whole gimmick after only a few minutes.

Clovrfield_Still_PK_04020.jpgThe makers of Cloverfield do deserve some kudos for their use of CGI graphics. The scenes of panic and destruction look realistic, as does what little we see of the monster. The smaller crab-like creatures that fall off the monster also look very real. The shots in the subway system and on the rooftop made me feel like I was in New York City in the middle of utter chaos.

Even though Cloverfield still wasn’t as scary or suspenseful as something I might have hoped for, the Blu-ray release, with its much improved picture and sound, was a much more enjoyable experience than the standard DVD.

When considering this Blu-ray disc’s video quality, it’s important to remember that the filmmakers used various digital cameras to shoot the film. Most of them were commercial grade with a maximum resolution of 1080. While this is technically considered “high definition,” it’s nowhere near what the best print cameras can produce. This is what gave Cloverfield its “home movie” feel.

Paramount has maintained the feeling the filmmakers were going for and provided an excellent Blu-ray experience by presenting the film in 1.85:1 ratio picture on Blu-ray disc using a VC-1/1080p encode. The color palette is much more defined than on the standard DVD. Now, this film is supposed to have a dark, drab look but the Blu-ray version delivers a clearer, sharper image.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is what truly makes the Blu-ray version of Cloverfield stand out. The bass is louder and makes everything seem far more dramatic. The first time the creature entered the scene, I nearly jumped out of my chair. Of course, having such awesome sound kind of blows the whole documentary style of the film out of the water, but if you can forget that, you’ll enjoy the superior sound.

The only special feature that is exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a “Special Investigation Mode” that enables viewers to watch the film with a GPS tracking device that displays on a map of Manhattan which shows the locations of the main characters, the military and the creature along with notes, radar scans, etc.

The rest of the special features on the Blu-ray disc duplicate the features found on the regular DVD, except now most of them are presented in HD. There is the expected audio commentary, this one by director Matt Reeves. Then there is a standard “Making of” featurette. Next is “Cloverfield Visual Effects,” which I think is pretty self-explanatory. Third is “I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge,” six minutes on the creature design. The final featurette is “Clover Fun,” which consists of bloopers and outtakes.

The disc also contains four deleted scenes titled “Congrats Rob,” “When You’re in Japan,” “I Call That a Date,” and “It’s Going to Hurt,” with optional director commentary. The disc also includes two alternate endings.

The DVD offers English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

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About Rebecca Wright