Cloverfield Cloverfield on Blu-ray disc

By Jim Bray

Wow!  Cloverfield is more than a sci-fi horror flick, it's an experience. And after I was finished watching it, I was wound so tightly a couple of scotches were appropriate. Alas, the bar was bare..

Cloverfield is a bird's eye (well, camcorder's eye) first person look at a group of ordinary people's experiences when their comfortable little world ends suddenly, thanks to an attack out of the blue by some huge monster whose origins we never really learn.

The movie starts simply enough, with an overly long introduction (though the subsequent sections more than make up for it) in which a guy named Hud (the mostly unseen T. J. Miller) is assigned to shoot video of a going away party and get goodbyes and words of advice from the bunch of young Manhattanites who show up.

Then there are a couple of bangs and these people's lives are changed (and/or ended) instantly. Explosions start, buildings collapse, panic ensues, and our intrepid heroes head into the streets, trying to find some safety and some answers.

Once in the street, all hell really starts breaking loose. The head of the Statue of Liberty flies through the air and bounces to earth, nearly at their feet, and the news channels visible through business windows start offering reports that something - God only knows what - is happening in New York City. Our heroes start moving toward the safety they think will be available off Manhattan but as they head across the Brooklyn bridge it starts collapsing in front of them - while hero Rob (Michael Stahl-David) gets a desperate phone message from ex-girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman), who's trapped in her Manhattan apartment, crying for his help.

The way ahead blocked, and a friend in dire need, Rob, accompanied by Hud (who's still recording everything that happens) and the requisite decorative females (Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas) head back against the hordes of evacuees and the U.S. military (swooping in to bring aid to the people and kill what quickly becomes obvious is a huge, Godzilla-like monster, though it also looks a bit like a gigantic Landstrider from "The Dark Crystal") to attempt a daring rescue.

It may sound cliché, and it probably is, but this treatment is so well done that it really, really works.

Their journey back into Manhattan takes them through a fascinating series of adventures and dangers, all shown to us in the first person perspective of the camcorder -  a heckuva good camcorder that takes a licking and keeps on ticking no matter what happens to it.

I won't spoil it for you - it really must be watched to be appreciated and this jaded monster movie fan recommends it highly. A warning, though: the "camcorder" aspect of the movie means the shots are very jumpy and according to some reviews I've read could cause nausea in some viewers - which is refreshing in a way, because it's usually the screenplay or performances that do it!

The camcorder as storyteller technique has been tried before, most famously in "The Blair Witch Project", a worthless exercise that had no scares and even less action - but Cloverfield is the real deal. Is it ever! I can't remember ending up wrapped so tightly after a film since the first time I saw George Romero's original, black and white "Night of the Living Dead" back in the 1960's.

I always consider Stanley Kubrick movies to be as much experiences as they are films but, while definitely not in the same league as a Kubrick film, Cloverfield is just as much an experience. When it ended, I felt almost as if I'd been there, and I was worn out.

It was great!

Part of the reason is the special effects, which are superb. Another part is the screenplay, which eschews traditional storytelling and dialogue in favor of a "cinema verité" style that's believable and refreshing, letting us be flies on the wall of these young people's life-altering (in more ways than one!) experience.

Another reason for the realism is the use of a relatively unknown cast, which helps our suspension of disbelief in a way that no Brad Pitt could - not to disparage him as an actor, but to have someone well known in this movie would have destroyed the sense of realism, of being at a real event.

I loved how we never find out what happens. We never learn what the monster is, whether or not it lived (from what we see, it sure seems indestructible!), how far its swath of destruction is spread, how many lives are lost, etc. It's been said that the best horror on screen is that which you don't see and, though we get to see enough, it's the stuff outside the camcorder's limited range that helps keep our hair standing on end.

The Blu-ray looks wonderful. The "cinema verité" style comes through beautifully, with a sharp image that features good blacks and deep shadows, with excellent color and detail. It may not be quite "reference quality" but it's certainly close enough. The 1080p widescreen picture is about all you can expect froma movie that's shot mostly at night, in darkened streets and buildings (though that also works to help enhance the creepiness).

Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's excellent. There are plenty of explosions and crashes - and giant monster footsteps - and the low frequency channel gets a very nice workout. The surround channels get used well, too and the overall soundtrack is textured and real. The lack of a musical score (which doesn't begin until the closing credits are well under way) helps contribute to the realism by allowing the rich atmosphere to soak over us..

There are plenty of extras, too, from the standard director's commentary, deleted scenes and alternative ending, to outtakes and a series of featurettes and "making of" stuff.

Paramount has also tossed in a Blu-ray-only "Special Investigation Mode", which puts the movie into a small, secondary window while the main screen displays a map tracking movements of the characters (including the monster) while dispensing information about the stuff.

In all, it's a pretty compelling package for an extremely compelling movie.

Cloverfield, from Paramount Home Entertainment
84 min., anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) , Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel
Produced by J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Written by Drew Goddard, directed by Matt Reeves

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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