Judge Clark Douglas noticed very few clover fields in this movie.
Our review of Cloverfield, published April 22nd, 2008, is also available.
Some Thing Has Found Us.
"What is that thing?"
Facts of the Case
The hero of Cloverfield is a scruffy, twenty-something Manhattan guy named Rob (Michael Stahl-David, The Black Donnellys), the sort of level-headed, slightly moody type who we expect to be at the center of any thriller. Rob is about to go away to Japan to accept a job as a Godzilla snack…um, I mean, Vice-President of a large company. So, his friends throw him a going away party. During the party, a friendly but dense fellow named Hud (T.J. Miller, Carpoolers) starts to film people, asking them to say nice things about Rob before he goes away. The party is interrupted by a loud noise and some explosions outside, and suddenly the party turns into a panicky crowd of young adults. Hud, determined to "document" what is going on, keeps the camera running…even when a giant monster appears. Hud's film has been found by the U.S. Government and has been given the name Cloverfield.
When I first saw the trailer for Cloverfield, my reaction was a shrug. However, when I went on the Internet and checked out the buzz, I noticed that the movie fanboys were in awe of what they had seen. The months went by, the anticipation grew and grew, but my own feelings remained a bit apathetic. Then, the film finally arrived, the crowds started raving about what a groundbreaking masterpiece it was, and I still found my general reaction to be "meh." Cloverfield is nothing more than a modestly effective but rather poorly made monster movie.
Yes, I hear you scoffing at me. "All that handheld camera stuff is completely intentional," you say, "it makes it, like, way more realistic than dumb movies like Godzilla." No, it doesn't. It only makes it look like it was filmed with a handheld camera. Despite the change in filmmaking tactics from standard blockbuster special effects to expensive attempts at looking like a low-budget production, Cloverfield has precisely as much logic and common sense as Godzilla, not a wee bit more.
What follows is a first-person version of a standard monster movie, filmed with perhaps slightly over-the-top jerkiness. Hud is either the worst cinematographer in the world, or he's constantly in need of taking a trip to the bathroom. Either way, the camera whips wildly from one place to another from start to finish, rarely managing to get a very good shot of anything. We get occasional glimpses of some giant beast that is destroying the city, and it's really difficult to describe outside of the word "reptilian." Speaking of that, why are most movie monsters reptiles? Why not have a giant furry bear attacking a city, instead of some dragon or dinosaur or lizard? Now that's a movie I would see: Attack of the Incredibly Huge and Exceptionally Furry Bear.
The film is occasionally exciting and engaging, but logic problems keep hampering it all the way, particularly considering the "realistic" effect Cloverfield is aiming for. First of all, based on the evidence presented in the film, I'm quite positive that the camera footage we are seeing could not have survived. Secondly, and most bewilderingly, Hud never changes or recharges his camera battery, which somehow lasts for some 12 hours. Also problematic is the film's use of rather eerie 9/11-ish imagery for the sake of cheesy entertainment. I suppose the statute of limitations has run out on avoiding such images, but I'm still wary about the idea of using them in a silly monster movie like this. Cloverfield is a film that really needs either a little more realism or a little less. As it is, I don't much care for it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All that said, I suppose horror buffs will like Cloverfield, which occasionally starts to resemble the likes of Alien rather than Godzilla, and sometimes presents fleeting moments of wit and/or intelligence. However, what does it say about the movie when the most enjoyable and exciting portion is the end credits? As the names scroll by, composer Michael Giacchino provides an absolutely marvelous piece of over-the-top B-movie monster music, aptly entitled "Roar!" It's more satisfying than anything the film itself has to offer.
Additionally, the film acquits itself admirably on the technical side. The Blu-ray disc looks superb…well, as superb as shaky and grainy handheld camera footage can look, anyway. This disc ensures that anything you miss due to poor visuals is intentional. The sound design is quite impressive, with a very complex array of sound effects at work. The TrueHD 5.1 sound is a big benefit, too. There is no original score heard throughout the film, only the aforementioned Giacchino piece during the end credits.
A very solid batch of extras is worthy of praise. The highlight is the commentary by Matt Reeves, who proves to be a smart and engaging guy. His commentary here never stops, and gives the listener an info-packed 84 minutes of film discussion. He's also surprisingly candid and freely admits to ripping moments from Paul Greengrass's United 93. The fact that he also discusses wanting to make Cloverfield "a really fun monster movie" is bothersome when combined with the 9/11-inspired images, but now I'm repeating myself. It's an excellent track from start to finish, and it is complimented nicely by "Special Investigation Mode," which places the film in a smaller box while some technical info appears onscreen. There's a GPS map tracking the location of the monster, the military, and the primary humans over the course of the entire film, and there's also a lot of terrific tracks that give us info on events that took place in the aftermath of Cloverfield. It really does enhance the viewing experience for repeat viewers, which is exactly what this sort of thing is supposed to do. Some featurettes aren't quite as successful. The 28-minute "making-of" piece, the 22-minute "Visual Effects" piece, and the six-minute "I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!" offer a lot of information that can be heard in the commentary, so these seem a little redundant. However, some deleted scenes, alternate endings, and a gag reel are all worth checking out.
Cloverfield is not a particularly bad film, so don't take my occasionally harsh tone too seriously. It's a reasonably effective movie that does what it sets out to do well enough. However, the level of acclaim the film has received among large groups of viewers, who claim it is "the best monster movie ever made," is absurd. Yes, I'm having a knee-jerk reaction, but I'm also wondering if these people have seen The Host, a very similar and infinitely superior monster movie that is both scarier and more entertaining. Once again, let me note that I found the 9/11 imagery inappropriate in this context, because this film treats that imagery in a much-too-cavalier manner (as opposed to, say, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, which used similar images in a very effective and moving way.) All that being said, Cloverfield fans should not hesitate to pick up this Blu-ray version.
The film is guilty, but director Matt Reeves is free to go. He obviously has the potential to make something considerably better than Cloverfield.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary w/director Matt Reeves
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