It's taken almost ten years, but the children of The Blair Witch Project are finally coming to visit.
The ubiquity of affordable digital video equipment informs a lot of genre offerings this past year - serial killers with tape collections have always been a standard back as far as the Betamax days, but The Poughkeepsie Tapes brought them into the digital age. George Romero went to this well for Diary of the Dead, and producer J.J. Abrams (Lost and Alias) with director Matt Reeves bring the conceit to kaiju movies.
Cloverfield begins as a videotape documenting the surprise going-away party for Robert, whose recent promotion to Vice President is sending him to Japan. A 300 hundred foot-tall monster starts taking Manhattan apart, and the camera continues to run as Robert and three friends try to reach Robert's estranged girlfriend, lying injured in her apartment in one of the monster's many Ground Zeros. The movie plays out as a combination of Miracle Mile, The Poseidon Adventure, and, yeah, Godzilla.
The major difference between Cloverfield and Blair Witch is quite simple: money. The video nature of Blair Witch was almost more a financial consideration than anything else, while in Cloverfield it is a definite storytelling choice. The computer generated trickery is seamlessly integrated into the footage (with one very minor exception) and is impressive in the extreme. Opened by video color bars and a Department of Defense warning, seeing this movie in a theater likely worked against it - viewing it on a monitor played into the concept much better.
There is, naturally, a legion of Cloverfield haters, inevitable with a movie so relentlessly and cagily ballyhooed. Most of them likely expected the second coming of the Godzilla movies, and what they got was almost the opposite: a kaiju eiga told from the point of view of one of those endless, formerly faceless crowds running screaming from the giant monster. And as that, Cloverfield succeeds.
Doubtless taken from a file that never saw an inch of film. Were I in the mood, I could be churlish and, next to the astounding battery life and storage capacity of the camera, I could mention its astounding audio range, but who wants to see a giant monster movie in mono? My subwoofer earned its keep.
Extra points on the faux Department of Defense brown tape along the video box's edge, replacing the usual white SECURITY DEVICE ENCLOSED tape...pity it looks so bad after cutting it to open the box - I' ll have to remove it.
The audio commentary track from director Reeves is enthusiastic and informative. There is, in addition, the typical Making of featurette, two more on the visual effects, a collection of outtakes, four deleted scenes, two alternate endings and previews for Abrams' upcoming retool of Star Trek and the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Dr. Freex, 4/23/2008