Written by General Jabbo
On a recent trip to Japan, producer J.J. Abrams saw a number of Godzilla toys in a toy store and realized the impact the fictional creature has on Japanese culture to this day. He then thought, “what if America had such a creature?” It was this thought process that led to the creation of Cloverfield, an American monster movie that owes a lot to its Japanese counterparts.
Set in New York City, Cloverfield begins at a going away party for Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving for a job opportunity in Japan. Among the guests present are Rob’s brother, Jason; and Jason’s girlfriend, Lily; Rob’s friend, Hud, whose home movie serves as the documentation of not only the party, but of the monster’s attack; the object of Hud’s affections, Marlena; and Beth McIntyre (played by Odette Yustman), who brings a date in spite of the fact she once had a fling with Rob. Hud films testimonials from the guests about Rob and it is here we learn from Beth’s reaction that she still has feelings for Rob. When Rob reacts angrily to the fact that Hud is inadvertently taping over video footage of him and Beth, it is revealed that Rob shares Beth’s feelings.
The party seems to be going fine when tragedy hits New York City. Buildings shake and there are explosions as the city reacts in panic, not knowing whether it was an earthquake or possibly a terrorist attack. It is here that Cloverfield does a good job of playing on post-911 fears, showing the chaos that would take place were such an event to actually occur. The monster rips the head from the Statue of Liberty, hurling it down a busy street and at this point, we first get our first glimpses of the creature as captured by Hud’s camera.
A group of New Yorkers tries to flee via the Brooklyn Bridge and Rob gets separated from Beth who is trapped in her apartment building. Desperate, Rob goes back to try and save her while the military is called in to fight the creature. In spite of being a monster movie, at its heart Cloverfield is really a love story between Rob and Beth. In a series of flashbacks (shown from Rob’s original tape, which wasn’t completely erased), we get glimpses of the playful nature of their relationship and, after the attack, see the lengths Rob will go to save her.
Cloverfield runs about 75 minutes – a short film by today’s standards – but that enables the film to keep its frantic pace throughout. With its shaky, first-person perspective (Think The Blair Witch Project), Cloverfield is not for those who get dizzy easily, yet it is this very technique that enables the viewer to see what Hud sees as he sees it and helps Cloverfield manage a fresh take on the monster-movie concept.
The DVD has a number of bonus features, including: deleted scenes, alternate endings, featurettes and commentary by director Matt Reeves. Those looking for drastic differences in the alternate endings however will be disappointed as it is merely the flashbacks that have been changed, though the commentary provided by Reeves offers interesting insight as to why they were left on the cutting-room floor.