Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cloverfield on DVD on 4/22

Cloverfield, produced by J. J. Abrams (Alias, LOST) was one of the most eagerly anticipated flicks of 2008. Some people found the monster effects way cool, others were put off--even made nauseous!--by the shaky hand held cameras designed to enhance the cinema verité effect. I landed right in the middle. I felt the jarring camera did make it feel like more real and like you were right there in the mix, but I was disappointed by the slight story and paper-thin characters. Really, if you're gonna have people dealing with the 300 foot tall monster, give them enough depth to handle it!

The genesis of the movie came during a press tour in Japan for MI:3. J. J. Abrams and his son, Henry, were in a toy store in Tokyo and Abrams was impressed by the amount of Godzilla memorabilia. He thought how amazing it was that here was this iconic monster that had so much meaning for people so many years later. "I wish we had a monster like that..." he mused wistfully. And thus started the project to create an American monster, dubbed "Clover" by its creators. (Note to J. J.: If you want to create an iconic monster, give it a scarier name than Clover!)

IMDB lists Cloverfield's running time at 85 minutes. The press release for the DVD says 84. I watched it with director Matt Reeves' commentary and the film runs all of 73 minutes. I don't know where they're getting the extra 11-12 minutes. Perhaps if you count ALL the end credits and the trailers that play BEFORE the movie starts...The quick and brief pace of the film sacrifices character development in my opinion. As part of the special features, 4 deleted scenes are included. Two were at the beginning of the film during the party scene and Reeves cut them because they didn't feature the main cast members and because he wanted to get to the monster quicker. Two other scene were mere moments that occurred when the action hit a fever pitch and would have helped make the characters a bit deeper. The total running time of the deleted scenes was three and a half minutes. When your movie is only 73 minutes long, deleting scenes is not really an issue...

The DVD extras total about 72 minutes--almost as long as the movie! There's a "Making of" featurette and one dedicated specifically to the movie's Visual Effects. While many derided the low budget look of the hand held cams, it is obvious from the featurettes that a lot of time, effort and skill went in to the look of the film. From the creation of the monster to invisible editing cuts to maintain the amateur documentary look of the film, it's quite astonishing how intricate and detailed this movie actually is. Filmed mostly in L.A., with about six days of shooting in NYC where the story is set, the movie manages to convince the audience it was all shot on location. But within a single scene, there could be a meshing of as many as four different locations. There's a short collection of outtakes under the heading of "Clover Fun" and two alternate endings (which aren't much different than the actual ending). The DVD extras would have more appeal to visual effects and editing aficionados than to the average Joe filmgoer.

Other interesting facts gleaned from watching the DVD extras: Clover is a newborn who is lost, confused and missing his/her mommy. Hence the chaos and destruction. The monster isn't evil or malacious, it's just scared. I wish I had known that while watching the movie--it would have helped understand some of the intent. For example why the monster keep retracing its steps and backtracking. Makes sense for a confused, baby monster. Apparently there will be a Cloverfield sequel, which may or may not give us answers to what happened to Rob and Beth, if Lily managed to escape, if Jason survived on the Brooklyn Bridge (actor Mike Vogel likes to keep the hope that he managed to cling to an I-beam). I'd like to see a sequel from the MONSTER's point-of-view. If you think the hand-held cam was nauseating from the standpoint of a running, dodging, grounded humanoid, try it from the standpoint of a stomping, crushing, vertical-leaping view of a 300 foot tall baby monster!

Another interesting factoid was how much the production was influenced and inspired by user generated footage ala YouTube. And in that same spirited of creating a "found footage" type feeling for the film and in concert with the DVD release, Paramount and director Matt Reeves are conducting a contest for "Best Found Footage" of the Cloverfield event. So whip out those mini-cams and cameraphones and create your own mini-monster movie! You could win $4,500 and a Paramount DVD Prize Pack. Check out the details at

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