Something so simple and effective simply had to exist...
by Joseph McCabe
With Alias, Lost and Mission Impossible 3, writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams has had his share of genre hits. But there was little on the resume of Matt Reeves (a co-creator, alongside Abrams, of TV?s Felicity) to suggest he?d be up for directing a science-fiction thriller on the order of Cloverfield. So props to Abrams, here functioning as producer, for apparently doing what he?s done so many times before?seeing something in a creative talent they may not even see in themselves, hiring them, and then getting out of their way so they can do the best job they can.
Cloverfield, for those who managed to avoid the hype surrounding its release in theaters this January, is Abrams, Reeves and writer Drew Goddard?s (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost) post-9/11 take on Godzilla, told?appropriately enough in this age of Youtube and reality TV?from the point of view of a small group of twentysomethings on the eve of their friend Rob?s (actor Michael Stahl-David) departure for Japan. One friend ?shoots? their adventure?and so we essentially see the experience through his eyes, occasionally interrupted by an earlier recording he?s taping over. This earlier recording was made by Rob and his now estranged girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman). The film?s central ?plot? concerns the group?s attempts to rescue Beth, trapped after the giant monster?s attack, in her Manhattan high-rise apartment. Some critics found the film?s cast of characters too pretty, too white-bread and unsympathetic. But their similarity to the kinds of characters we?ve seen time and again on TV soap operas only serves to make their grim, apocalyptic adventure all the more jarring.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote (and I?m paraphrasing here) that great music should appear ?inevitable.? That?s what struck me the first time I saw Cloverfield?that something so simple and effective simply had to exist. ?Of course there?s a Godzilla film shot entirely from the point of view of the victims,? I thought. ?That?s the only way it should be done, the only way it could be done, to make it scary.?
Cloverfield?s effectiveness is, surprisingly, lessened little on the small screen. Because the tape within the film was supposed to have been shot on a home-viewing-friendly format, this intimate epic may actually gain something for the jump. A shame then that the extras on Paramount?s new DVD don?t live up to the film?s transfer. The Making of Cloverfield documentary is probably the most substantial offering on the set, giving highlights from the film?s shoot, and numerous peeks into the impressive digital-effects technology employed by Abrams and Reeves. Then there are the handful of additional featurettes on topics ranging from the design of the Cloverfield monster (affectionately referred to by the crew as ?Clover?) to the struggle to maintain secrecy on the set with red-herring titles like Cheese. But each of these is comparatively short. And the disc?s deleted scenes and alternate endings don?t offer anything essential or radically different from what can be seen in the final cut. Additionally, there?s a director?s commentary with Matt Reeves, that, while benefiting from his clear articulate delivery, could have been enriched with the participation of the energetic cast and veteran genre enthusiast/producer Abrams.
I?m not an extras junkie, so I don?t believe the omission of quality bonus features ruins the disc. But here?s a word of advice to Paramount?don?t ask me to double-dip and purchase a Special Edition of the film before you release Cloverfield on Blu-ray, hear? And when it does hit Blu-ray, I look forward to finally being able to quote Cloverfield?s now-famous trailer and say, ?I saw it?it?s huge!?