Monday, April 21, 2008

Cloverfield on DVD : Spoilers Ahead...

So after all the hype, speculation and hush-hush viral marketing, what's there to discuss? Despite the proclivity of some to obtain vid-camera-captured copies of theater showings of movies and upload them to the masses online, after months of Kaia and I both salivating over the opportunity to see Cloverfield on one of our televisions, we finally were able to obtain a advance copy of the actual DVD. While there were some slight negatives, the truth is that, given the tense times in which we live -- especially those of us who live in New York City -- the film was absolutely a keeper.

Set in "modern day" New York, the film begins by establishing that what's being shown on the screen is actually the video recording found in the area formerly known as Central Park. Since a lot of what the film is about has been leaked, it's clearly an ominous beginning to a roller-coaster ride.

The video commences with a couple, Rob and Beth, filming one another in various states: her naked in bed after, presumably, a night of intimacy, and then the couple discussing their planned venture to Coney Island.

The next -- immediate -- cut is to some friends doing some shopping for a bunch of people coming by that night for a farewell party for the aforementioned Rob. Turns out Rob has gotten a job as Vice President -- a mighty achievement, if the revelers are to be believed -- and he's off the next day to Japan.

Suddenly we are at his farewell party where 40 or so people are gathered to send him off via a surprise good luck party, and after a bit, a huge noise and a thud interrupts the festivities. Looking through the eyes of the camera, it seems like something has hit a building nearby and created some sort of major explosion somewhere a bit further downtown. As the partygoers ascend the roof to get a closer look, more explosions begin rocking the downtown area and panic ensues. Soon after, as the entire crowd hits the stairs to get to the street, the explosions continue -- as one guest asks in the background if this is a terrorist attack -- and then the real chaos begins. People running everywhere, screams and overall panic grip the entire city as seen through the single lens, and the attack continues, only now, at street level, it is clear that something huge -- 30 or more stories high -- is actually decimating the city, block by block. The creature -- which resembles a giant bat on steroids atop bulging legs -- is causing destruction and attracting the attention of the military, who are firing at it with everything short of nuclear weapons. The destruction ramps up and the intensity does as well, to the point that much of the remainder of the second act is spent with the protagonists on the run to avoid the huge creature and human-size offspring that it seems to emit.

Without giving away any further details, the film isn't a true horror film in the "Halloween" mold. There isn't much sit-and-wait suspense; there's no let-up in the intensity or the attacks. The protagonists find themselves in a subway station (underground, at Spring Street) and attempt to make their way north after the Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed. Thereafter, they're attacked by the miniature offspring of the giant creature. As they attempt to escape the City and the chaos, one by one they are picked off by the circumstances by which they have found themselves in.

This film might very well represent a true picture of post-9/11 horror; much of the panic and the destruction is reminiscent of that day in our recent history. If one was to really reach for comparison, the giant creature and its offspring might have some sort of direct correlation to our modern history with respect to extremist Muslim terrorism. But more likely this film represents a unique perspective on what feels extremely real, if only because it depicts characters that react and find futility in a situation that mirror how we might react and that we, if we were in their shoes, would find ourselves in.

Granted, there's been no monster attack chewing up and destroying the entire city; there is no impromptu military HQ or full medical triage center on the main floor of Bloomingdale's at 59th Street; and for certain, Central Park is known as Central Park and not Cloverfield. However, given a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, this movie goes from rollicking, entertaining scare to an intense, disturbing episode in one possible future.

Incidentally, one of the reasons we waited to see this film via legit DVD was because we wanted to enjoy the experience and the breadth of special effects featured therein. The CGI and the creativity of JJ Abrams, Screenwriter Drew Goddard and Director Matt Reeves are nothing short of amazing. Due to the creative nature of the "one camera" storytelling, there are some creative twists and omissions that let your imagination fill in the details. However, the CGI depicting the creature and its offspring is riveting, and the city-wide destruction is incredibly detailed and absolutely realistic. Moreover, what we see and hear on screen is so over-the-top it's hard to not be pulled into the action as if we're experiencing the events depicted in the film rather than simply watching them on a screen.

I would recommend, incidentally, anyone interested in watching this film do so in a completely dark environment with no interruptions and with the sound as loud as it will (comfortably) go. The immersive, all-encompassing of this film deserves and demands it. More importantly, when watching this film, disconnect your phone and don't plan on stopping the ride until the director decides it's time for you to get off. You'll be glad you obeyed.

No question this film is as much a phenomenon as it is an 84-minute motion picture. However, if you view it without judgment or preconceived notions about the marketing and the hype, this is one film you may not love but one film you will not soon forget. It's a solid 8.5 or 9 out of 10, whether or not "horror" or "sci-fi" are your kind of films. It's easily one of the best movies I've seen over the past 18 months, and that's definitely saying something...

For those planning to get the film on DVD, note that in addition to a slew of extras -- a director's commentary, deleted scenes, some outtakes and 2 (!) alternate endings -- the fact is that the behind-the-scenes look at how the movie was created (eg CGI, sets, etc.) are as fascinating as the movie is captivating.

And knowing the creature is nicknamed "Clover" by the film's crew and that the area "formerly known as Central Park" is where the camera is eventually located suggests that Central Park was re-christened Cloverfield.

Told you there were spoilers ahead... ;-)


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