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"Cloverfield" Hits DVD: Is It Time to Hit Back?

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I pissed off bunch of readers with my original mixed review of Cloverfield. Weeks before the January debut of this ambitious scareflick, evoking 9/11 with its shaky handheld digital camera tracking an alien attack on Manhattan, fans were palpitating for a new classic that would cement the YouTube-ification of Hollywood. Cloverfield opened huge with $46 million, then dropped like an elephant turd the second weekend by shedding 68 percent in cash money. For some reason, audiences turned on the hype monster they helped create. The Cloverfield DVD — one tight single disc package — lets us see the movie for what it is: borrowed inspiration, trite screenwriting and amateurish acting all in the service of a ballsy idea — that a horror movie could maybe have a soul. Watching Cloverfield at home brings out its best and worst qualities.

The initial fifteen minutes spent at a party are meant to establish (insert laugh) character. But these twentysometings we're asked to hang with are instead people we'd like to hang. Anyone who doesn't dote on Gossip Girl will be begging for the monster to show up and stomp these annoying nonentities. The lizard king arrives on cue. And he looms impressively on DVD, which minimizes the woozy camerawork that caused motion sickness in a few weak stomachs when viewed on a giant screen. We don't see all of the monster at first, but we hear him roar, knock down buildings and send the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling down a street right in front of our party crowd. And then, boom, down goes the Brooklyn Bridge with a smack of his tail. The fireworks are something to see, with soldiers firing at something unwoundable. And those parasites that pop off the Big Boy's hide are manic creepazoids that rate high on the ick meter.

As for the DVD extras, forget the gag reel, the deleted scenes and the two lame alternate endings. What works, besides dynamic commntary from director Matt Reeves, is "Document 1.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield and Cloverfield Visual Effects," a nifty bonus feature that takes you behind the curtain. And there in a nutshell is my problem with Cloverfield. All its virtues are mechanical. The movie itself keeps hinting at a profundity — a core of feeling — that never comes. That's your cue to agree or to scream bloody murder.

DVD of the Week: The Orphanage

Here's proof positive that a scare movie can be made that cuts deep without skimping on humanity. The Orphanage, Spain's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, stars Belén Rueda as a nurse who returns with her husband and their adopted son to the abandoned orphanage where she grew up. That's the setup, and there's no need to say another word about plot. Just watch as first-time director Juan Antonio Bayona, who has previously made music videos and short films, uses atmosphere and character to get inside our heads and scare us silly. The Orphanage has been transferred to DVD with exceptional attention paid to detail in sound and image. The bonus features, notably "Horror in the Unknown: Makeup Effects," reveal a new master at work. Cloverfield, eat your heart out.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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