Super Bowl LII will likely be remembered mostly for its surprises. The Eagles’ shock win hinged on two surprising plays (one that the Eagles converted and the other that the Patriots didn’t), but the biggest of them all came during the commercials when Netflix announced that the latest Cloverfield movie, The Cloverfield Paradox, would be premiered on the streaming service immediately after Tom Brady threw his final hail mary in vain.
It was a manoeuver from the streaming giant that had the potential to rock the movie industry to its very foundations in a similar fashion to the behemoth flattening New York in the 2008 Cloverfield. Unfortunately, on viewing this elusive and supposed prequel to the Cloverfield franchise, it quickly becomes clear that Netflix had to do something drastic to make it a talking point for viewers and perhaps its unconventional release was born more out of desperation than innovation.
THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT
The Cloverfield Paradox has certainly had a strange journey to its even stranger release. Formerly known as “The God Particle” before having the “Cloverfield” prefix added to its title as it was bounced around the release schedule over the last year. Netflix had only secured the rights to the film from Paramount in January 2018 for a release that was rumored to be in April later this year. Last night’s trailer had been expected to debut during the Super Bowl where it was sure to be overshadowed by other promos for the likes of Solo: A Star Wars Story and HBO’s second season of Westworld. However, Netflix – most likely at the behest of Cloverfield producer and perpetual pop-culture prankster, J.J. Abrams – had a trick up its sleeve to ensure that the Cloverfield prequel would usurp its hotly-tipped competition in the same manner as last night’s victorious underdogs, the Philadelphia Eagles.
If you thought the latest Star Wars spin-off was cutting it fine by releasing its first footage just three months before its actual release, then The Cloverfield Paradox time-frame of just two hours between teaser and release was like kicking a winning field goal with just one nano-second remaining on the clock. Netflix has always been an arch-disruptor of both the distribution and the creation of media, but this devastating play was unprecedented even by its standards. It is a superb piece of promotion that will leave subscribers constantly guessing as to what Netflix will do next. Perhaps we will wake up tomorrow and there will be a brand new season of Firefly waiting for us on the platform. As fanciful as that sounds, Netflix has just undermined the established workings of the film release cycle to such an extent that one must question whether the Earth slipped unnoticed through a dimensional wormhole last night. So, perhaps now, up is down, black is white, and a film that struggled to hold down a release date and distributor for over a year is actually good.
But, alas, the film in question brings this fantastical theory crashing down with a loud thump (but we’re still getting the new Firefly, right?).
A C.E.R.N. WARNING
You can break all the industry norms you like, but a bad film will always be a bad film and The Cloverfield Paradox is most decidedly a bad film. The synopsis for the prequel had been doing the rounds for a while now, so it shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to reveal that most of the film takes place onboard an experimental space station, known as Cloverfield (of course), as the crew attempt to solve Earth’s energy crisis with a prototype particle accelerator. Even on paper, the set-up for Paradox sounded extremely reminiscent of both Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon and last year’s middling sci-fi fare Life. This bears out in the film itself but it never can escape the orbit of the two films or use their gravitational pull to slingshot Paradox to somewhere more interesting.
The central conceit is that the particle accelerator causes the Cloverfield and its crew to take a day trip to another dimension, which is remarkably similar to our own but different enough that they soon notice. The universe isn’t exactly permissive about these kinds of excursions so identical particles battle it out for their share of the same space-time which leads to a whole host of weird shit going down. Frustratingly, though, Paradox refuses to take off the handbrake as it goes down the hill to crazy town and, as a result, never hits the same insane heights as Event Horizon. Also, thanks to a tone that wavers constantly between farcical humor and attempts at abject terror which never deliver on their initial promise, the film never generates any genuine sense of tension or momentum. This isn’t helped by the constant intercutting to the events back on the original Earth, where “something has found us”, as the events of the original Cloverfield begin to play out.
And then there are characters, or at least I suppose that’s what we can call these vapid facsimiles of human beings. I am unsure why sci-fi horror movies that have attempted to replicate the peril in space of Ridley Scott’s Alien over the last 40 years consistently miss out the crucial ingredient of a believable and relatable crew, but, yet again, it’s absent here too. The cast members are fine as their respective astronaut archetypes (though Chris O’Dowd should have reigned his I.T. Crowd schtick in by several yards) so the fault doesn’t fall at their feet. No, the fault lies with the chaotic edit as Paradox bears all the hallmarks of a film which has been cut to within an inch of its life to fit a task and brief running time which it was never suited to. As a result, neither the characters or the screenplay get the space to breathe in a way that would have been much better served if the whole enterprise had retained a semblance of focus, which seems to have been lost at the cost crowbarring Paradox into the “CloverVerse”.
One of the many reasons why the first continuation of the Cloverfield franchise, 10 Cloverfield Lane, found its way onto many 2016 FOTY lists was because it was such an abstract and unexpected way to move the series forward. 10 Cloverfield Lane was primarily a tight, taut psychological thriller set in a single location which only gave us the merest hints it was unfolding at the same time as the events in New York of Matt Reeves’ found-footage original. Even when it finally showed its hand in the final scenes, the monster encounter was considerably different to what we had seen before and it singlehandedly produced a big bang to start a shared universe which was far bigger than what the film had just shown. The possibility of the Cloverfield series becoming something of an anthology series set within a single universe (a la Black Mirror) was a tantalising one. So it’s immensely frustrating that Paradox conforms far more to being a typical prequel and, worse still, commits many of the sins attributed to this retrospective format.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns with a prequel is the inherent risk of retconning the pre-existing, yet chronologically later entries and Paradox does not seem to give a single fuck about this. The Earth, as it is in this prequel, is at crisis point with Russia and Germany on the brink of war as a global energy crisis consumes the globe. In isolation, that’s as good a motivation as any for testing a huge particle accelerator in space with the potential to rip a hole in the very fabric of space-time to try to produce a perpetual energy source. However, with civilization’s very future and existence hanging by a thread, do you think someone might have mentioned something about this during the first Cloverfield movie?
Now, you could just write this off as self-absorbed metropolitan New Yorkers in 2008’s Cloverfield being self-absorbed metropolitan New Yorkers, but come on, this is a plot-hole so massive that the several kaiju could comfortably fit through it. And it these kinds of oversights which makes Paradox such a wasted opportunity both as a potentially hard sci-fi take on the perils of humankind playing God and as an enricher of its shared universe.
Perhaps such glaring continuity errors will be explained in the forthcoming Overlord (though if they dare trying to use alternate timelines/dimensions to do so, then I am so done with this). Unfortunately, even by retconning the retcons, Overlord still won’t be able to change Paradox‘s horribly misshapen form that will remain eternally trapped on Netflix’s event horizon for all to see, but for most to wonder why they bothered viewing it in the first place.
IT’S NOT A GOOD SIGN WHEN THE MOST REMARKABLE ASPECT OF A FILM IS ITS RELEASE CYCLE. SADLY, THAT IS THE CASE WITH THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX AS INITIAL INTRIGUE IS QUICKLY REPLACED WITH MUDDLED CLICHES AND THE FILM STRUGGLES UNDER THE WEIGHT OF ITS ILL-FITTING PREQUEL DUTIES.