The Cloverfield Para-problem
Once upon a time, there existed a script called God Particle. I don’t care what was actually in the script: but that very name, mostly the usage of the word ‘God,’ triggers excitement in these old bones.
That script, by Oren Uiel, was bought by Paramount ,who announced the movie in 2012, starting a production cycle that we mere mortals are not meant to understand. Supposedly, this script landed near the divine hands of JJ Abrams who saw fit to repurpose it for the goals of a franchise attempt: God Particle became The Cloverfield Paradox while its distant relative The Cellar was adopted into the same family, its name unsubtly changed to 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Cloverfield, released in 2008, was a beautifully weird child that finely manipulated the internet and social media at a time wherein we weren’t “always on”; a friend or a colleague would ask if you had seen this questionably unusual trailer, a first-person camera showing Friends-style character interactions (in NYC, of course), only to lead to a moment of terror when the head of the Statue Of Liberty gets thrown across the sky, landing near our heroes. The trailer promised no official names or dates, but remained under the working title of Cloverfield until it was finally released.
The film was an interesting watch, but one with little true narrative: our heroes’ interactions with the monster were limited, mostly observed from a distance and with no real explanations as to the reasons or origins behind the monster’s presence. In some ways, that made the film more successful: this was not a narrative, but an experience, and it needed to be seen on the big screen, lived through for that hour-and-a-half, boldly recommended to your friends and family…and then forgotten a few years later.
The truth here is that Cloverfield was forgettable as a story in its own right: I remember more about the marketing for this story than of the film itself, and when I caught bits of it on TV a few months ago, it had lost much of its awe and excitement. The cinematic release of that film was an experience that didn’t carry through from the big screen to your regular-sized TV. Arguably, if we’re honest, Cloverfield was culturally loaded by its setting as well: were we, as viewers, ready to watch New York City being destroyed by an unexpected monster, so close to the events of 9/11?
If took eight years for the Cloverfield name to be dropped again, this time in another cinematic release: 10 Cloverfield Lane wanted to be a thriller with airs of Alfred Hitchcock: I reviewed it back when it was first released in 2016. To cut a long story short without reading that piece, I wasn’t overly impressed: its final scenes tried too hard to emulate the shock and awe that were cast with the Cloverfield name, and those elements were horrifically placed next to the tensions of the primary narrative, a narrative that would have been far stronger if it were left on its own. But maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t have sold particularly well otherwise…
It’s somewhat fitting, then, that a third Cloverfield film would leave a similarly bad taste in my mouth
The name-change should have been my first warning: given my own interests in God Particle, changing the name at any stage was an unwanted blow. Setting the gods aside, the implications of the original name made me think of an era of un-subtle horror like Event Horizon (and one of my personal favourites, Jason X.)
And then there was the advertising.
Having worked in the marketing industry for the last decade with specific time in TV and movie advertising, I have huge problems with the way that this release went out, a sneaky 30-second Superbowl add with the surprise that the film was basically ‘out now’ (or would be by the end of the match.)
First thought on this ad was that half was focussed on a film from ten years ago that’s long-since been forgotten. Second thought was on the cost: time is money, and the shorter the ad, the less the cost. While other movie releases splashed out with 60-second ads with dramatic copy (let’s be honest, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Westworld were creatively stunning whilst also being, y’know, interesting.) Compared to other ads, The Cloverfield Paradox was short, to-the-point and didn’t give many hints as to what the movie actually was.
In other words, it was cheap. Not just cheap, but marketed solely at one audience: fans of American football. Yeah, other people would catch those ads as well, but somewhere a decision was made to advertise solely to this market, and that raises a question in my head.
Realistically, the clues are all there: these are not the signs of a creative project for which all involved are incredibly happy about; these are the signs of a film that cost money to produce, and there’s now a question over whether or not that any investors would get that money back.
Upon watching the film, it’s very clear to see that: most of the promise of the film is completely forgotten within the opening minutes, introducing Gugu Mbatha-Raw as our main character and her husband, waiting in a long queue to refill their car, and all because the world is running out of gas (or petrol, whatever your preference.) The two spend some time talking about emotional issues in their past: it’s not serious enough to give us any true sense of caringfor either character, though. Or, for that matter, any sense of their names…
Within minutes, Ava (the wife; thanks Wikipedia) has accepted a job on a space station (under multiple different names depending on who’s talking at any given time), working towards using a particle accelerator to sort out the world’s energy problems. Unless they <insert forced science here> break time and space in the process </insert forced science here.>
Guess what: they fuck up time and space.
The heart-breaking bit is: it’s not even done in a fashion that’s scary or entertaining: either the film is lacking any significant budget to create juicy death scenes, or is marketing to a specifically younger audience who might not be comfortable with blood and guts. The lack of any threat or horror in such a film isn’t helped by performances that can best be described as camp: Chris O’Dowd’s feels like he’s acting in a very different type of film and the film he thinks he’s in isn’t particularly good either.
The Cloverfield Paradox is unimpressive enough that even trying to write this review has proven forgettable and awkward. Like, remember that bit when I used a lot of god-like metaphors at the beginning of this review? Yep, didn’t even have a place to include those by the end of the review
It’s almost like I promised one thing, couldn’t deliver it and left you disappointed, a little bit pissed off because you ultimately expected more from me. But hey, thank fuck you didn’t have to pay me directly for that waste of time.
Also published on Medium.