FEATURE: The Cloverfield Conundrum

February 7, 2018

The exact nature of what exactly the Cloverfield series is only came into discussion two years ago with the release of the surprisingly good 10 Cloverfield Lane; a thriller originally shot and completed as its own entity, before last-minute decisions in post-production and the involvement of J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production studio altered aspects of the production. Reshoots and rewrites transformed the film into something of a spiritual successor to Matt Reeve’s monster movie hit of eight years prior.

 

Now we have The Cloverfield Paradox, produced in a similar vein by taking the production and reshaping it into something that can be easily marketed as a new Cloverfield film. What needs to be said about the eventually that film has already been covered in my earlier review of the feature upon release, but it’s the strange way in which it was dropped onto the public without ceremony using a very modern and strange strategy that feels similar in vein to the last two instalments in the series.

The marketing gimmick of these films has been one of its more unique aspects. With the original 2008 film, a teaser trailer was attached to screenings of Michael Bay’s Transformers in the summer of 2007 with no specified release date or even a title beyond a very rough presentation of its monster movie premise. It caused a riot of speculation online with audiences racing to message boards at a point in which water cooler discussion was making its way onto online spaces. The involvement of J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot only made the conversation more intriguing given their work on Lost, which at the time was one of the most discussed shows on the planet, and its secretive production and creative marketing campaign of fake sites and news reports set within the world of the film.

 

There was sequel chatter for quite some time, but it eventually died down and looked set to takes its place as another divergent venture that left an impact on the industry, but not the filmgoing collective. But then, out of nowhere, a trailer was revealed when attached to another Michael Bay film, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, announcing what appeared to be a sequel but that bared no direct connection to the original film other than its title, and that it was coming out in just two months.

 

It’s a rarity for something like this to happen anymore, especially with an already established title reference, but filming under the secretive title of Valencia and working from a revamped screenplay originally titled The Cellar, Bad Robot had somehow pulled the rug from underneath audiences again. As with Cloverfield, a viral marketing campaign was used that included elements of an alternate reality game.

This strange gimmick paid off, and it seemed that this might be have been the intention of the producers to market micro-budget genre exercises with similar elements concerning world ending events seen from the perspective of individual groups, and possibly the beginning of a rogue anthology series not really tested by mainstream Hollywood since the failure of Halloween III: Season of the Witch back in 1982.

 

This now seems to be Bad Robot Productions intention to alter the work of already produced films to fit into the canon the same gamble has been made again by taking the originally titled God Particle, reshaping and rewriting it into something that could be sold as a Cloverfield title.

 

Unfortunately, lightning hasn’t struck twice. Not only is the meddling at the hands of the studio so clearly apparent and distraction (even more so than the climax of the previous entry), it’s ham-fisted methods of explanation and efforts to tie in to the other entries in the canon only confuse and distract from one of the most boring and unoriginal science-fiction thrillers of the last few years – and it really didn’t need to be this way.

When the first film came out it was a huge hit, though many will struggle to use it as a reference point for much due in part to a lack of staying power beyond its major reintroduction of the found-footage sub-genre into the mainstream, it’s an oddity of a picture that savoured the grounded and personal perspective of a group of random New Yorkers to a Godzilla scale attack rocking their city.

 

Producer Abrams' original pitch for the film fell along the lines of wondering why the United States didn’t have its own version of a Toho-style monster in its own popular culture outside of King Kong. That seemed to feed the desires of the creators of the film and be it intentionally or not through the use of handheld camera footage and the visual presentation of the film and its destruction sequences, the unnamed Cloverfield monster became as much an metaphorical stand-in for the symbolic contemporary reaction to the immediate horrors of 9/11, in a similar way to Japan’s Gojira standing as a reaction fear of nuclear destruction and warfare following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If there is a probable link to be mined thematically between the first two films, then it’s how they address the effecting cataclysm that begins the plot. I theorised when its successor was released back in 2016 that maybe this could become the very foundation of its own sociological underpinnings as more than just affecting genre fare. Mainly because the way in which John Goodman’s survivalist expert Howard Stambler prepares for impending attack with absurd strategy and preparation very much echoes the same doomsday planners that sprouted in the wake of the 2001 tragedy.

However, in the light of the release of The Cloverfield Paradox, it feels rather sad that we all might have given to much credit to what feels more like a fluke of surprise and timing now that it’s been given some distance.

 

What speaks more volumes beyond its awkward and hurried production is the sudden release of it onto the streamlining service Netflix overnight following its Super Bowl trailer, a decision that has come following the rumours of strain on the ongoing production of God Particle as its own entity and Paramount Pictures’ increasing push to sell the distribution rights onto Netflix because of its inflated budget and the time spent working over the feature in post-production.

Paramount's chairman Jim Gianopulos felt the film's budget (which ballooned to over $40 million from an initial $5 million) was too large for the film to be profitable with a traditional theatrical release and that it still needed work done, and "while Abrams expressed an intent to get down to business in post-production, it was too little, too late". This comes after discussions with Netflix to take the film off the studio's hands for nearly $50 million, and their apparent decision to send their upcoming release Annihilation to the same platform.

 

So, what we have now is a franchise with no stable home, a major Hollywood studio shedding IP and Netflix increasingly bleak position as a dumping ground for the films no rightminded studio would release completed into theatres. The sadness of this state being that cinema feels a little robbed of what could have been an interesting form of anthology storytelling in the age of interconnected cinematic universes, and all The Cloverfield Paradox proves is their inability to work with anything that people won’t immediately recognise or relate to something else in the name of continuity. It's a fresh marketing strategy for the industry, but without a more interesting product to back it up.

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