I have to admit, I’ll take any excuse to rave about how brilliant Cloverfield is. I love it, from start to finish. The first time I saw it on the big screen, the initial 20 minutes before any monsters or explosions crop up made me nervous about how much I could really invest in this film and these apparently annoyingly shallow characters, but all those doubts were swept away as soon as the Statue of Liberty’s head rolled down the street.
Cloverfield is a masterpiece, a deceptively simple idea – what if you could watch a monster movie from the perspective of someone down on ground level, someone completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things, someone completely unable to do anything but watch the city crumble around them? – executed in an extraordinarily complicated way. The blending of handheld camera angles with ridiculously sophisticated CGI creates something wonderful and, oddly, something that seems totally simple and easy, even though it patently isn’t. The recent spate of handheld camera movies, from Diary of the Dead to Welcome to the Jungle, serve mostly to flag up what a remarkable achievement Cloverfield is, because they insist on getting it wrong while Cloverfield gets it so, so right. Matt Reeves never forgets who’s holding the camera, never forgets that there’s a character there, taking part in the action even as the camera records what’s happening; he never lets his filmmaker’s desire for a better angle override the need to make the characters’ movements his main priority. And, a rare thing in any horror movie, the characters in Cloverfield react as you’d like to think you’d act in a similar situation; they don’t go running heedlessly into danger, but they also don’t abandon one another whenever anyone’s in need. Even in the most desperate situations, they never completely lose their sense of humour – but it’s a natural, believeable sense of humour, manifesting in throw-away comments that you could imagine making yourself, demonstrating that all too human need to laugh, to distance oneself from the horror, even when it won’t help anything, won’t actually make the monsters go away.
Did I mention that I absolutely adore this movie?
Anyway, this is a DVD review, not a movie review, so I’ll get on with it. While some movies lose their impact in the journey from the big screen to the small one (The Descent is a prime example; terrifying in the cave-like darkness of the cinema, much less so in the safe and familiar landscape of one’s own living room) Cloverfield‘s format actually makes it better suited to a TV screen. It’s supposed to look like a home video, a seemingly ordinary record of a fairly ordinary event that turns extraordinary by dint of some outside influence, though the cameras keep rolling. Because it’s filmed on a handheld camera, and because it’s shaky and amateurish, it somehow feels even more real when viewed on a small screen; it lacks the distance that many blockbusters rely on, because you’re not zooming around on a dolly or in a crane; the camera is always roughly at the height of the human head, and it’s easy to transport yourself into that viewpoint.
Cloverfield can’t ever quite escape comparisons to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and those echoes stand out even more starkly on the small screen, because that’s how most of us saw those attacks. The grainy footage of first one aeroplane, then another, crashing into the World Trade Centre looked like it was part of a disaster movie; now, ironically enough, a movie feels more like reality than it did, back then.
More recently, there are photographs on the Internet that began as a young couple’s wedding pictures and then quickly degenerated into disaster photos as an earthquake shook China and left the wedding guests covered in rubble. This is the world we live in now, where ordinary people have the means to record their everyday lives – so that when something extraordinary happens, normal people are there, recording it, letting us see what’s happening; not from an omniscient, all-seeing perspective but from the viewpoint of someone just like us. And that’s what Cloverfield taps into.
That’s why it’s so scary, too; when you turn off the TV or leave the cinema, you know there’s not going to be a giant sea monster outside, but you know that natural disasters and terrorist attacks do happen, and it’s that anxiety that this film plays with. Its far from happy ending is only fitting, really; because normal, innocent people die when bad things happen in the world. They don’t deserve it, but that’s just the way it is – though Cloverfield does concede some ground to Hollywood tradition in letting its love story play out all the way to the end before the final blow lands.
The 2-disc DVD is rammed with extras, which, for a Cloverfield fanatic like me, is bliss. Disc 1 contains the film, which can be watched with a feature that allows you to access extra information about what’s going on in the middle of the movie, or with a commentary by director Matt Reeves. Reeves is engaging and charismatic, interested in his subject and hence interesting, and though it would’ve been nice to have more commentaries with maybe JJ Abrams or some of the cast members involved, Reeves can more than carry a commentary track by himself.
Disc 2 is rammed with extra material – an extensive Making Of documentary, a look at how the visual effects for the film were created, and a featurette entitled “I saw it, it’s alive, it’s huge!”, which explains JJ Abrams’ interest in Godzilla and covers creature designer Neville Page’s conception of the Clover monster itself. (The bit about the different types of eyeballs considered for the monster is particularly enlightening – every single element of this monster has been thought about so much, with so much love and care, that it’s just mindblowing.) ‘Clover Fun’ is a series of bloopers, in a way – mostly T.J. Miller, who played Hud, improvising silly dialogue, but also other cast members indulging in horseplay or accidentally catching members of the crew in their in-character taping, and props behaving like they have minds of their own.
There are four deleted scenes, with optional commentary from Matt Reeves, which are entertaining enough in themselves but no great loss to the film (except maybe a moment between Lily and Marlena), and two alternate endings, one which doesn’t change the outcome of the main narrative but instead replaces the final footage of Rob and Beth at Coney Island with another scene of blissful, pre-monster ignorance, and one which does sort of change the ending of the movie, implying that perhaps Rob and Beth were rescued, maybe. The version used in the actual film is probably the best, but these are nice too.
Extras:(a couple of the R1 DVDs had more extras than this, which is the only reason I’m bumping this down a star.)