Does ultra realism make for a better movie? There have certainly been examples of startling realistic moments in cinema that have been quite effective, but mostly because they create an experience for us that actually reaches us in a way that we’ll never be able to forget. The storming of
The entire film takes place inside the camcorder of a character named Hud (Miller). Hud was given the recorder to document the goings on at a farewell party for Rob (Stahl-David). Rob is about to leave
I thought the idea was great, and I really wanted to love this film, but there were several serious problems that kept that from happening. The film begins far too slowly. For over 15 minutes we see Hud trying to get testimonials from the party attendees, and we get a lot of small talk. Instead of using the time to build real believable characters that we can care about once the mayhem begins, we get the most boring minutia of their lives. I have to tell you, I really wanted to turn the thing off after the first ten minutes. Even with all of that prep time we only know the most shallow details about these people so that it is difficult to care what happens to them. All of them are incredibly interchangeable to the point where losing any character was no big deal. I agree that it was a good idea to get relatively unknown actors, particularly with the style used for the film, but too much of this stuff looked improvised and pretend. The next huge problem is the style of the film itself. We all know The Blair Witch Project by now, and in case you forgot how hard that shaking camera stuff was on your head, Abrams wants to remind you with even worse camera shake, rattle, and roll. I’m not sure the dismal camera work ended up being worth it to keep the “captured on video” thing Abrams wanted to have going here. Finally, I wanted to see and know more about the monster. Yes, less is often more. Often it’s what you don’t see that scares you, but Abrams never created the atmosphere for that to be effective. This is Godzilla, not Aliens, and we want to see the big bad.
There was a lot of hype for this film before it came out. Everyone remembers the simple 01-18-08 ambiguous teasers and trade magazine campaigns. Abrams effectively got a lot of free buzz going before anyone even knew what the film was about. The crew even planted internet rumors that the date was a secret project to do a new American Godzilla film. Once the secret was out, the pre-release machine kept rolling. Internet videos reportedly taken from “secret footage” cropped up, and who can forget the dramatic image of the head of the Statue Of Liberty being tossed to the street? Unfortunately that was one of the film’s more stunning moments, and we had all seen it before the film was released. Abrams really needed to keep that one back.
Cloverfield is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Keep in mind that the whole idea here is that all of this footage came from a camcorder. With that in mind, you’ll understand that we’re not talking stunning image here. Scenes suffer from a multitude of sins common to amateur photography, particularly when said photographer is running for his life and likely wetting himself several times. Lighting is often bad, and there are moments of horrendous grain. There are times when the picture is actually pretty solid, but unfortunately these moments occur when we couldn’t care less, such as at the party. Understand this looks exactly like Abrams wanted it to look…bad.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was far more impressive than it should have been. For some reason Abrams decided to break from the theme and give us better sound than is possible under these circumstances with this equipment. Dialog when the players are in frame is solid, and you’ll hear more than you might expect. There are times that the camera points to the ground or away and dialog can be lost, as it most logically would be under these circumstances. The creature’s eerie screams are quite impressive. They’re never earth shattering, but evoke some primeval instinct that causes your hairs to stand up and take notice. There isn’t a score, again to feed the realism, and I think that was a good choice. It does tend to give impact to the quiet moments and feed the frenzy of the out of control ones.
There is an audio commentary with director Matt Reeves. He talks fast and covers a lot of ground here. The shooting schedule was frantic, and he talks a lot about that. The film had a quick turnaround time. He’s pretty honest about the various choices made and offers more than interesting commentary.
Deleted Scenes and Alternative Endings: If you’re hoping that this limited material will answer any of your questions, you might as well forget it. The alternative endings don’t really change anything at all.
Clover Fun: We’re talking 4 minutes of outtakes, mostly during the improv stuff at the party.
Document 1.18.08 The Making Of Cloverfield : 28 minutes. Most of it is Reeves and Abrams giving their philosophy on the shooting of the film. There’s some participation from crew and cast but mostly stands out as fluff. There’s a lot of talk about Godzilla here. Abrams says he wanted to create a monster that, like Godzilla, would still be on toy shelves after 60 years. Hey, he only missed it by 59 1/2.
Cloverfield Visual Effects: This 22 minute feature gives us some great behind the green screen looks at the f/x work used on film.
I Saw It! It’s Alive! It’s Huge: Here the design of the creature is given just under 6 minutes. If you want a good look at the monster, here’s your only chance. For all of that effort I would like to have seen more payoff on the screen.
Previews: I usually don’t include these here as extras. They are, after all, advertisements and not some special feature the studio was generous enough to give us. But the Star Trek teaser is the first one shown. It’s going to be huge. OK, so I saw it already on the net. I am liking having it right now.
Cloverfield is a better than average thrill ride if only for its originality. Unfortunately that wears thin at times and requires patience along the way. Monster junkies will be disappointed, I’m afraid. Let me warn you ahead of time, no matter what Abrams claims, this IS NOT Godzilla. Give him a lot of credit for originality, but subtract points in the delivery. Blair Witch really was low budget, and the style fit. Cloverfield has big budget f/x that are wasted on bad video and stolen glimpses of the creature. Does it really matter what I think? “It matters because I need to talk about something.”