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</script></div>{/googleAds}One of the most widely anticipated films since Snakes on a Plane went down in flames last Summer, finally gets its release. And like that film, Cloverfield has been riding a crest of viral marketing and Internet buzz that makes financial failure a near impossibility. But unlike Samuel L. Jackson's "eff"ing disaster, this one's gimmick is much stronger and resonates a bit more powerfully with the audience. Sure, snakes are creepy and all, but Cloverfield packs a much bigger reptile.

Hoping to both personalize and thereby increase - the "horror" and to move away from the torture-porn that seems to be the hot thing lately, director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams put a spin on the genre by deflecting the focus away from the alien invader(s) and putting it on the poor schleps on the streets - the people we always see fleeing with mouths agape and arms flailing. They do this by taking a cue from The Blair Witch Project and shooting the entire film from the point of view of a handheld camcorder. The result is grainy, herky-jerky footage that, while sometimes quite nauseating, effectively puts the viewer right on the street with the victims. And that's what makes Cloverfield so intense. Mile-high, God's-eye shots make beautiful cinema, while down-and-dirty camera work makes frightening cinema. The trade-off is that we don't really get too many good money-shots of the ravenous reptile wreaking its havoc on the city. And certainly, that's the trough of criticism from which most of the film's detractors and pundits will feed. In fact, a quick perusal of chat rooms and message forums leading up to the film's release, tells us that anything less than full-exposure of the monster is going to leave many feeling left in the lurch. And that's too bad, because the alien invasion theme has been done to death and this new twist is actually quite refreshing.

CloverfiledIf you can stomach it, the aforementioned jittery camera footage is the film's ace-in-the-hole. While initially a bit distracting and gimmicky, the film's short (84 mins.) runtime never lets it grow old. The footage comes from the camcorder of Hud (T.J. Miller), a quick-witted party guy who is selected to record the farewell greetings at a party given for friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving New York to take a job in Japan. Hud trolls the party, grabbing testimonials from Rob's friends, who are not above passing judgment about Rob leaving his current girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman), behind.

As Hud, Rob and Rob's brother, Jason (Mike Vogel) take a break from the party, the house is suddenly rocked by a huge explosion. The rest of Cloverfield is viewed from the lens of Hud's camera as the party guests make their way to the streets to survey the damage. The ensuing panic and chaos is reminiscent of the WTC tower attacks, as frantic citizens flee the ghostly white powder that billows down the streets. Reeves even manages to pay a shrewd little tribute to the Japanese horror genre when Hud and gang encounter a harrowed Asian man frantically scurrying down the street, screaming incoherently.

In a brilliant touch of filmmaking, some footage that gets partially taped over of Beth and Rob's last day together before his departure - serves as a much-needed bit of character development. Later in the film, as we're watching the monster's wrath, we get a few brief moments to catch our breath when Rob and Beth's romantic moments peek through on the video. Their tender twinkles together allow us to understand Rob's later insistence on returning to the heart of the chaos to rescue her.

Although everything the audience sees is through the lens of Hud's camera, the filmmakers deploy a few clever uses of other media as well. We get our first good shot of the monster and the damage he inflicts, through some CNN-type news helicopter footage broadcast on a television in an electronics store. This is also the moment we realize that the military will have very little impact on limiting the creature's rage. Bombs dropped from stealth fighters have virtually no effect, and we now begin to wonder what to do about the ravenous parasites that are dropping from "Clovie's" underbelly. A bite from one of those things seems to spell doom for the unfortunate victim.

In yet another wise move, the filmmakers never try to explain the presence of the monster or why it's throwing such a conniption. Although some web sites and other external sources hint at possible explanations, it makes sense that our only knowledge come from what the characters see... nothing more. It's important to remember that this one's not about the monster, bur rather a group of friends just trying to stay alive.

Component Grades
4 stars
5 Stars
DVD Experience
4.5 stars


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: None

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes featurette; easter eggs.

* Commentary - audio commentary with director Matt Reeves
* Featurettes
o "Document 1.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield" (28:17)
o "Cloverfield Visual Effects" (22:31)
o "I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge!" (5:52)
* Deleted Scenes -
o Clover Fun (03:59) - flubs and outtakes
o Deleted scenes - 4 additional clips with optional commentary
* Alternate Endings - 2 clips with optional commentary
* Trailers - for Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging