FUN FRIDAY: Cloverfield

I finally got around to seeing The Cloverfield Paradox. You know, the film they showed the trailer for at the Super Bowl, only to announce that it was instantly available on Netflix. It wasn’t a great film, but the tale of how it’s being marketed is a better story than the plot of the film itself.

J.J. Abrams was known for his TV work on Lost and Felicity, but in 2008 he was still a big gamble as a filmmaker. He’d made Mission Impossible III by that time, a film which was a modest success but not overwhelming. All of a sudden he arrived with Cloverfield in 2008, a film that was notable more for its marketing than for its content.

Cloverfield was marketed with almost no information ahead of time, and when it finally rolled into theaters moviegoers left with almost as many questions as they started with. It used the “found footage” style that was popular in those days to great effect to show the results of a monster attack on New York and hardly showed the monster. It was hailed as an interesting marketing gimmick but little else, proof that Mr. Abrams was perhaps up to the task of much larger films like the 2009 Star Trek. It was on the verge of being forgotten for a few years, showing up at the bottom of streaming site lists and broadcast TV midnight showings.

And then, a funny thing happened. Mr. Abrams released 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film which apparently had nothing to do with the first film other than the name. It too was a minor hit and largely forgotten by the time 2017 rolled around.

Still, there were rumors that this was some sort of series, that there would be some way to tie the connective tissue of not only those films but future “Cloverfield” films together. Clearly given the very modest box office performance of the two, few people cared, but by this point you have to realize J.J. Abrams was a powerhouse in Hollywood and he wanted another film. So was born The God Particle, later retitled The Cloverfield Paradox.

Without going into too much detail if you haven’t seen it, it’s not a very original film. There’s a scientific thing, and someone warns that you shouldn’t do it, and of course they do it (for a good cause) and it spectacularly backfires. You’ve seen that film a kajillion times before, from The Andromeda Strain to Jurassic World and a bunch of movies in between. This one’s not special.

So unspecial was it, in fact, that it was shoved around with no firm release date for over a year. Until, last month, it was released to an unsuspecting public. As in, here’s a trailer, BOOM, there’s your movie go get it. It’s hard to know if this tactic actually affected Super Bowl viewership but it can be said that at least 25 million people watched all or part of Paradox in its first weekend. That would have been a solid opening if it had been a theatrical release, but of course all people had to do was push a button. Actually getting in your car and laying out $15 a ticket for a show, that’s a little harder. At any rate, it was better than Bright. 

While none of the three Cloverfield films have been terribly well-written or well-received, they still represent a turning point in the history of cinema. At least the first and third do; the second would have been instantly forgettable without the top names attached to it. These films show if nothing else that marketing can be completely different from what it’s been before. The world of filmmaking has changed, and it’s not just the way they’re promoted. Instead of dumping a turkey in a bad timeslot in January, it goes straight to streaming instead. Instead of “straight-to-DVD” it’s now “straight-to-Netflix” and there’s some indication that Netflix, like Amazon before it, can actually make some real quality films.

Just so long as they avoid making another 12 Cloverfields, because seriously, there have to be better ways to spend 2 hours than watching those.