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From the DVD Shelf: Cloverfield

In one of my very first posts for this site, I mentioned that I’d really enjoyed Cloverfield when I saw it on the big screen, but I wondered how it would hold up to a second viewing (especially on a TV screen as opposed to on an enormous movie theatre screen).

I was eager to find out, so I scooped up Cloverfield on DVD when it came out, about a year ago.  But, for some reason, that DVD sat on my shelf, unwatched.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe other films just caught my attention.  Maybe I didn’t want to discover that the film didn’t work on a second viewing.

But a few weeks ago I finally decided to pop in that DVD.  And you know what?  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed the film just as much as I did the first time I saw it!

The first 10-15 minutes of the film could be the start of any type of urban dramedy.  A group of friends gather in an NYC loft to throw a good-bye party for one of their friends, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving town for a new job in Japan.  Through some fun banter we begin to get a sense of the dynamic between the group of friends, and learn hints at a romance that went wrong between Rob and Beth (Odette Yustman).  Then the power cuts out, they see a huge explosion across the city skyline, and the party-goers rush out of the building in a panic only to see the severed head of the Statue of Liberty smash into the street.

Then, you know, things get worse from there.

The conceit of the film is that one of the friends, Hud (T.J. Miller), who was filming the good-bye party as a favor, winds up capturing on his digital video camera the entire nightmarish scenario that follows.  The entire movie is seen from the point of view of his camera.  This is an enormous conceit, to be sure, and certainly there are a few times in the film where you might find yourself wondering, “I can’t believe he still has the camera on!”  But I think the filmmakers do a pretty credible job at maintaining credibility to this idea throughout the film.  (And, interestingly enough, while on my first viewing I did find myself evaluating, from scene to scene, whether I could really believe that Hud would have been able to capture what I was seeing, on this second viewing I didn’t think about that at all.  I totally accepted the scenario.)

I have to praise the filmmakers, camera-men, editors, etc., for the skill with which the shots were created and put together.  The entire movie has a very visceral, hand-held feel to it, which brings a lot of excitement and energy to what is, in essence, a fairly familiar “monster attacks the city” story.  But they were able to create that feeling without making me totally nauseous by a constantly jittery camera.  I also feel that they found a great balance between shots that looked realistically like footage from someone’s personal camera (that is, not a perfectly-composed shot that a movie-maker with a steady-cam would film, but rather what an amateur with a little digital camera in his hand might film), while also not being too confusing.  The viewer is always able to see just enough of what is going on that I never felt confused about the geography of the events, of who was where, etc.  That’s a tough balance to find, and they really nailed it.  (Nailed it better than many of this summer’s big blockbusters!  Cough Transformers 2 cough.)

I’ve read some reviews of the film that have been critical of the group of kids who we follow through the story, but I’ve got to say, I don’t agree with those criticisms at all.  The kids felt like real, upper-middle class New Yorkers to me, and I found them all to be engaging characters to watch through the film.  Are they the most dynamic central characters a movie has ever had?  Well, no.  But that’s sort of the point.  These are supposed to be totally average, every-day people, and that is exactly how they felt to me.

Cloverfield is a very short film (84 minutes, and that’s counting the end credits), but I found it to be a fun, clever, gripping ride for those 84 minutes.  It’s well worth your time, if you missed it in theatres!

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