Listen, I was as excited as anybody else to learn that Netflix was about to release a Cloverfield movie right after the Super Bowl. To boot, the streaming giant announced it during the football game itself with a 30 second spot that used the first two movies as points of reference. I was suckered. The anticipation got the best of me, I had to work the following day at 9am but I still decided to stream the damn thing. The idea was alluring, historic even. Paramount and Netflix collaborated on the project in secret and nobody had a clue this was about to go down. A $40 million blockbuster was about to be released in our living rooms without a single trailer, teaser or photo released. As far as marketing goes, this was a game-changer, a brilliant move from Netflix, but as far as the movie went, those adjectives could never be used to describe the mess that was unfolding onscreen.
Yes, "The Cloverfield Paradox" is bad, really bad. In fact, it's far and away the worst movie of the "Cloververse" series. After watching this film, the pieces of the puzzle started to fit, everything aligned in a much clearer way … Good God, Netflix had just Punk'd us.
The film takes place in 2028, with our planet’s natural resources all but gone and a space station (Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo and Zhang Ziyi) trying to rev up a particle accelerator to produce “unlimited energy.” Meanwhile, since this is a JJ Abrams production after all, a mistake on-board the space station has multiple dimensions colliding onto each other and reality being blurred. Chris O’Dowd is part of the crew and, suffice to say, if the clown of the enterprise is supposed to be the highlight of your sci-fi movie then Houston, we have a problem Elizabeth Debicki shows up all tangled in a web through the ship’s wiring, how did she arrive in such a knot? Who knows. There’s also the curious case of the severed arm that starts to write clues for the crew.
The film doesn't just take place in space, there's a back and forth going on between the cosmos and earth. Back down on earth people are freaking, there are mysterious explosions, the shadow of a monster looms, all seen through the eyes of Mbatha-Raw's husband who also finds a child, most possibly an orphan by now, and takes her under his wings and then the tyke just disappears from the film, but not in a "ooh this is so mysterious kinda way," no, the child just stops being important or relevant to the plot and we never know what happens to her.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” quietly started filming in the summer of 2016 and we really had no idea when a release date would actually happen. It was originally supposed to be released on February 24, 2017 then it was altered to October 27, 2017, then back again to February 2nd and then finally to April 20th. Paramount ended up selling the rights to Netflix, never a good sign, and the rest is history. In the end, despite releasing a mediocre movie, Paramount and Netflix have both emerged as winners. Why? Well, because Paramount knew they had a $40 Million dud at their disposal and found the best way to liquidate it. Netflix knew what they were buying was a dud but they knew it was also a well-established brand name that would intrigue millions of people into watching it. Also, the film could bypass any of the negative reviews (Currently at 21% on RT) it would surely be getting by having audiences watch it before, or at the same time, as critics. In other words, Netflix pulled the "Lemonade" of the industry without, of course, any of the quality or artistry of the aforementioned Beyonce landmark.
The "Cloverfield" series started as a brilliant viral marketing campaign in 2007 when JJ Abrams released footage of an upcoming untitled movie, shot in hand-held POV and which included the shocking image of the Statue of Liberty's head rolling' down the streets of New York City. There was barely mention of a plot, no actors names, and more than a few people speculating that it was to be a spin-off of Abrams' landmark ABC show "Lost" or even a "Godzilla" movie. Those things it was not, what we received instead was a monster movie shot "Blair Witch" style, and that was perfectly fine. On a $25M budget "Cloverfield" amassed more than $170M worldwide. Its 2014 "sequel" was far superior, starring a never-better John Goodman and Mary Elisabeth Winstead, "10 Cloverfield Lane" barely had any connections to Abrams' original film except that it was produced by him and had the word "Cloverfield" in its title, oh and an ending that vageuly hinted at a possible "Cloververse." Even its stars Goodman and Winstead didn't know this was a film that was going to be part of that universe until marketing started just two months before the film's release.
So what does this stunt from Netflix say about the future of movie marketing? We're not sure yet. One thing we do know is that Netflix took a mediocre product that was sure to nab tepid reviews and bad box office, and turned it into the movie event of the year so far (that is at least until "Black Panther" arrives next weekend). However, the streaming giant's reputation also took on negative press in the process, with critics accusing Netflix of being an empty hype-machine, the misbegotten Will Smith Sci-fi "Bright" also mentioned more than a few times. The latter was also hyped up with buzz only to crash and burn with horrible reviews. Nevertheless, it set records for viewership on Netflix and one can only imagine "The Cloverfield Paradox" having the same success as well because, at the end of the day, both films are vehicles for hype and that is really what seems to be driving money over at Netflix.
What happened on Super Bowl night shows the tremendous power Netflix has over the industry. Maybe we will eventually see the numbers that “Paradox” made on that fateful evening of February the 4th, or maybe we never will, but what this stunt did prove is that the 110 million subscribers Netflix has are enough to save and successfully sell stinkers to the movie-going public. Another such example might be coming later this month. After test screenings for Alex Garland’s Sci-Fi opus “Annihilation” had Paramount execs freaking over the film being “too intellectual” and “too complicated” for audiences, they asked Garland to make changes to the ending of the movie, However, co-producer Scott Rudin wanted none of that, as per his contract he had final cut, and so, the intended vision will indeed be released on February 23rd. However, Paramount no doubt very nervous about their returns, asked Netflix to partner with them, the streaming giant would take over half of the film’s $55 million budget and make the film available in streaming format 17 days after the theatrical release. And so, The question isn’t if the Super Bowl night coup will ever happen again, the actual questions we should all be asking are when and which studio is ready to selloff their latest big-budgeted bomb to Netflix. [D+]