‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Can’t Decide Between Serious Sci-fi or Fun Trash


#1

Spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox ahead.

I really, really wanted to love The Cloverfield Paradox, the surprise-announced Netflix film that went live just after the superbowl this Sunday evening. It’s the latest entry in the ongoing Cloverfield series, a kind of filmic anthology of sci-fi horror, and this particular installment belongs to my favorite horror premise: Things Go Badly on a Spaceship. I never saw the first movie, but I adored the claustrophobic and complex 10 Cloverfield Lane a few years back, so, I strapped in for an evening’s entertainment.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/zmwvv3/cloverfield-paradox-trash-scifi

#2

This movie is like they had the scripts for three or four sci-fi movies, none of which was excellnt, stacked on a table, and then a big wind blew in and scattered all the pages around and they were on deadline so they just picked up a bunch of pages at random and shot it.

I would characterize my reaction to this movie as “crushing disappointment.”

It really feels like direct-to-Netflix is going to be the dumping ground for Hollywood in the future, they’ve already done it with a few things and they’re basically going to do it with Annihilation, and it fucking sucks.


#3

I enjoyed Cloverfield Paradox a lot, as one who’s seen a lot of sci-fi and knows a lot of horror sci-fi. I definitely feel they totally decided on doing both serious and stupid fun at once.
Having been invested in the Cloverfield-verse since the original in 2008 this one is a great continuation and explanation of what in the world happened, on top of having some good characters and truly scary moments.
Sure its pastiche, but its slick. Way better than The Thing §requel and far less tonally whiplash prone than Sunshine, which I do really love.
When you involve the idea that if you’re colliding universes anything can happen, they did a good job making that feel fresh and look good.


#4

I’m so, so glad that you enjoyed the movie, but I wish I had seen the movie you did. Your version had good characters, and mine didn’t even have characters at all. I can’t name a single distinguishing characteristic about Xiyi’s character aside from “Chinese Scientist” or David Oyelowo’s, besides “American, maybe in charge?” Gugu Mbatha-Raw does her best, but aside from “sad mom in space” she has essentially nothing to work with. These bland uniforms bounce from setpiece to plot point to set piece with no motivation or logic, and occaisionally we cut to a pointless story on the ground that was obviously shot on a budget of $50 over the course of three days, months after the rest.

God, I wish I had seen the movie you did. 10CL was one of the best movies I saw in 2016.


#5

I never saw the original Cloverfield, but 10CL was was a fantastic little movie with some great performances and a surprising third act that still fit with what came before.

This was garbage. Somewhat competently made garbage, I guess. This movie seems like it’s the result of growing pains in this streaming service, big budget movie experiment. I can’t imagine that movies that could make a good run at the theaters would end up here on Netflix where they never have a chance to earn money before they are Incorporated into a huge back catalogue. I’m not sure this business model makes any sense.

I do hope the Duncan Jone’s Hush is still good, though.


#6

This movie seems like it’s the result of growing pains in this streaming service, big budget movie experiment.

For clarity, The God Particle/Cloverfield Station/The Cloverfield Paradox was originally booked for a February 2017 theatrical release, which got pushed multiple times. It essentially followed the same arc as many other sequels that end up being dumped direct-to-dvd, with the exception that it got dumped direct-to-Netflix with Netflix doing a clever promotional thing with it, because Netflix doesn’t actually care about the quality of the new content they promote.


#7

The Cloverfield Paradox is a rough assemblage of a variety of fantastic influences, that fails to riff on what makes each of its influences interesting. There are elements of Alien, Another Earth, The Europa Report, Fringe, and Coherence, along with the painfully obvious script revisions that incorporate it into the Cloverfield universe. It manages to competently ape all of its influences well enough to advance the story, but it only ever seems satisfied with mimicry.

It co-opts the fear and paranoia within the crew from Alien, giving a crew member an ulterior motive, but never seems interested in seeding the audience with any uncertainty. There’s no sense of a mystery here. It would have been better served if a crew member had simply swapped with their parallel universe counterpart, and not told anyone about it, setting about on whatever secret task they might have while trying to fit in. How interesting that could have been!

The crew dynamics and problem-solving were not very interesting, in that there wasn’t a lot of reasoning or discussion that went into decision making. A secret faction formed to complete a task they believed would truly help, but I was never clear on what that was and why it wasn’t sanctioned by the rest of the crew.

The thing I remember most about The Europa Report is that it was the first space station-type movie that I had seen whose crew made perfectly sensible decisions nearly all of the time. They discussed them, and came to logical conclusions. The Cloverfield Paradox could have also capitalized on its crew of world-class geniuses with scenes like this, but it chose to err on the side of silliness and intensity, with crew shouting down each other or otherwise becoming unreasonably fearful (the doctor who can’t cut open a corpse??) which made the entire movie feel extremely messy.

Perhaps worst of all, the movie does almost nothing with the parallel universe concept. All it grants us is an additional character. It toys with the consequences of meeting yourself, accessing a different version of your life, but it never becomes anything more than a thought experiment for one of the characters. Fringe is a sci-fi show founded on the protagonist’s dilemma: a brilliant scientist loses his son, so he creates a portal to a parallel universe, where he steals that universe’s version of his son, profoundly altering the balance of both universes simultaneously. Coherence simply duplicates friends at a dinner party and sets about making them distrust one another. Another Earth posits that there is a second, slightly different version of Earth that we can travel to, and uses this to explore grief and regret.

The fact that The Cloverfield Paradox took one of the most philosophically interesting concepts in science - the parallel universe, the parallel you - and chose NOT to duplicate an existing character is a perfect distillation of how this movie misses the mark on what makes its influences so fuckin fascinating. The Cloverfield Paradox also fails to come to a satisfying conclusion on the ramifications of going to another Earth to see how life could have been different for you. The fact that the protagonist concludes she’s going to go to this Earth, where another version of her already is, and live there forever is wild. What will she do? And what about her husband? She doesn’t know, and neither do we, because that decision makes no fuckin sense.

Lastly, it doesn’t even succeed in its Cloverfield references. The reason the Cloverfield creature rose from the depths is already explained in the extensive meta narrative around the original Cloverfield, taking place across websites, and even a manga. This movie retcons that (admittedly stupid) stuff. Why…did they do that? The ARG was a big part of what made the original so successful.

They even revisited the Cloverfield ARG to an alarmingly intense extent in 10 Cloverfield Lane, with personal and company websites (typical Bad Robot stuff), culminating in an unadvertised local Craigslist ad to sell some old silver owned by (Jon Goodman’s character) Howard’s ex-wife who FUCKING RESPONDS TO EMAIL INQUIRIES AND THEN JON GOODMAN LEAVES AN IN-CHARACTER MESSAGE ON THE PERSON-WHO-FOUND-ITS PHONE

So what does The Cloverfield Paradox do? It puts a crackpot conspiracy theorist on our screens with his Twitter handle, “Paradox_Is_Real”, as prominent as his name. Any excited clue hunter who knows Bad Robot’s game, lookin for that sweet ARG, would go to Paradox_Is_Real and find it’s a real Twitter account - with no bio, no avatar, and no tweets.

I mean at this point, I’m not surprised, and that’s The Cloverfield Paradox’s greatest sin: it fails to surprise in literally every way.


#8

I’ve tried to defend Netflix’s buying/business practices before, but I’m coming around to this POV. It seems like they want to be treated like a serious player in the film industry and obviously have some sort of eye for prestige/quality movies but also behave like a sub b movie distribution house. They’ll pick up basically anything they can market and have a pretty minimal degree of concern for the quality of the films they distribute or throw out to the world.

I just don’t get where they want to position themselves in the industry, basically.


#9

What matters to them, I think, is just getting people to sign up. It’s a monthly service and I imagine their retention rates are very high. So it’s vital to their business model to always have something to promote, in as many varieties as possible.


#10

Yeah I think you’re right. They just need lots of new stuff to promote and there’s not much concern about whether it’s something that’s actually good like Mudbound or if it’s something like The Cloverfield Paradox that a studio dumped on them to cut their losses.

I guess my thing is that it’s hypocritical of them to conduct business like that and then also act upset when their films aren’t treated seriously enough by the studio establishment and/or during awards season. Which is also a separate issue, but that’s an argument I’ve had with friends a lot over the last year or so.


#11

It’s really amusing to me that Netflix pulled off one of the oldest tricks in the exhibitor’s playbook, maximizing short-term exposure for an otherwise-shelved movie with a splashy but limited ad campaign. As someone who casually reads the trades, I knew darn well this wasn’t a “secret” or “surprise” movie, but I’m enough of a genre buff to have remained cautiously optimistic. After all, French toast is better with day-old bread, right? Unfortunately this material is considerably beyond stale; there’s a hint of mold.

While I can appreciate the power of novelty in an individual’s experience of media, I have never understood the allure of the “mystery box” per se, and of the Cloverfield “brand” in particular. It’s a nebulous hook that seems primarily about turning mediocre product into capital-E Events. The only halfway-decent entry, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was hurt as much as helped by its retrofit into a Cloverfield movie. (Love that flick, but that last act? Woof.) At this point, the “Cloverfield” label—like “Netflix Original”—is more a meaningless brandmark than a seal of quality.


#12

For me, sci-fi is at its best when it surprises. The original Cloverfield encapsulates that surprise by presenting its proceedings to the viewer by way of a bystander’s perspective - no explanation, just enough information to suppose. The ARG elements flesh out the suppositions, but are ultimately superfluous. So long as there is enough information there to suggest cohesion, that’s what I want. I never want a scientist in a mountain laboratory, looking wide-eyed at a computer screen, dictating to himself (and the audience) what is happening.

Bad Robot gets that. They overdo it (a reformed Lost forum user here), and this recent wholesale invention of a Cloverfield universe is stupid and has done more harm than good to two of its three movies so far, but it is nothing if not weird. And I like weird.


#13

I have a love/mostly-hate relationship with Bad Robot’s house approach to genre; to me it generally reads as lazy pastiche with streaks of unearned nostalgia, but for some damn reason I keep watching. To the larger discussion, one of the first shows I can recall binge-watching / hatewatching as a Netflix early adopter was Lost, three DVDs at a time. I never, ever would have made it through that show in real-time, asked to take the patently empty narrative promises at face value; but as easily consumable product, I ate the show up even as I actively rooted for entropy to overtake it. In many ways, I’m Netflix’s core demo / part of the problem: they’re giving me more of what I demonstrably “want” with their shoddy content, and I’m justifying the algorithm’s existence by engaging with it.


#14

The only halfway-decent entry, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was hurt as much as helped by its retrofit into a Cloverfield movie. (Love that flick, but that last act? Woof.) At this point, the “Cloverfield” label—like “Netflix Original”—is more a meaningless brandmark than a seal of quality.

I’ll stick up for the first one, which was a fresh take on the standard Kaiju movie and even if it wasn’t perfect it was a pretty good attempt to do something fresh within the genre. It’s not perfect, and they kill off the only interesting cast member early, but it was still a good experiment.

And the 2nd one isn’t really related to the first at all. It’s not the cloverfield 1 monster outside. While I’m open to debate about whether or not the threat they use is a great one, I still think the movie works like gangbusters. The fun of the movie is that you spend most of it debating whether there is actually something terrible going on outside or not, but at the same time to complete Michelle’s arc she has to stop running away from a problem, and make a conscious choice to do something about it. In the original script IIRC it was outside of Chicago, which had been struck by a nuclear weapon, but what the aboveground menace is isn’t particularly important. It just matters that she makes the choice to face it.

To me, the most disappointing thing about Cloverfield Paradox is that it torpedoes what I thought was one of the more interesting concepts of a franchise. I love the idea of having an anthology series of movies that are only related by the high-concept thing of having weird monsters.


#15

I think it might be interesting to examine the ways in which this movie faceplants a little bit further because it really is emblematic of a lot of trends in blockbuster filmmaking that always make me check out immediately.

Compressed time-frame: it almost never increases tension when the entire plot of the movie runs at a breakneck pace. If there are no lulls to contrast with the moments of crisis then it all becomes meaningless mush that won’t stop screaming at you. The scientists and the movie itself never got a chance to really come to terms with this big cosmic event, nor did the main character’s emotional arc land, because the narrative keeps piling on ticking clocks. Sometimes the passing of time enhances things. If they had been adrift for weeks before understanding what was happening rather than an hour or so might have made their situation feel more grave and given a second for tensions (and characters) to develop.

Climax must be louder and busier: when some big dramatic set-piece is happening even well like movies pile on flying chaos; exploding cars, space junk, neon vortexes, flubbery CGI characters bouncing around. The space walk scene in this film made no sense and then just threw a nonsensical space garbage tornado in to hide it all. Had it been somewhat more deliberately paced and quieter you might have gotten a sense of scale or danger, but with the frame full of things twirling around it actually makes everyone seem impervious to harm. You end up just waiting for plot mandated moment where “sad thing” occurs.

Anybody else have movie gripes that this thing, or other movies, leaned into?


#16

The spacewalk culminating in the trick “I have an idea, let’s all go this way” and then shutting the door behind the others so the captain can be a hero was just so uninspired and obvious - especially in light of my knowing and understanding nothing about what they were even fucking doing other than that it would be catastrophic if they didn’t ‘do it’.


#17

Half the charm of a kaiju film, at least for some, is spotting where the zipper is on the monster’s back; there’s an element of playfulness. The problem I have with the Cloverfield films (and Bad Robot generally) is that they lean into that self-awareness too hard, turning marketing gimmicks into a selling point of their own, hardening screenwriting paradigms into self-fulfilling prophecies, and going out of their way to render in a 3D zipper seam as an Easter egg. I, personally, devour this stuff; intertextuality is the key thrill of genre cinema to me. But the Cloverfield stuff is so blatantly / primarily / only that, such that it leaves me as cold as, say, manufactured camp. I find myself thinking: I like this sort of thing, and the people who made this clearly like this sort of thing, but the thing they made, is not actually the sort of thing we both claim to like.


#18

I legitimately spent a solid fifteen minutes midway through the movie wondering if the budget of this movie would actually allow them to have spacesuits. Even though it cost three times as much as 10 Cloverfield Lane did. When the spacesuits came out I was mildly surprised, because they didn’t even look that bad.

And then they climb on some monkeybars. In space. Because that’s definitely a real thing that happens in space.

(I could go off on a whole thing about the stupid-ass spacestation design, too)

The last shot of the movie I literally threw my headphones off and was like “fuck this, and fuck you, movie.”

This is a movie where Chris O’Dowd has a conversation with his own detached arm which has somehow become sentient and psychic, and that’s not even the biggest problem with it.


#19

I was too distracted by what was going on with gravity (like, why was there any?) in that scene to really understand anything else that happened.


#20

I mean, let’s be honest, this movie only adds to the very long list I have entitled “JJ ABRAMS DOES NOT UNDERSTAND SPACE” and yes I’m blaming him personally even though I know he was barely involved.

anybody else think it was cute that somebody had HEARD that you get gravity in space by rotating compartments, but they didn’t actually understand the concept, so they just had spinning donuts off to the sides of the giant mushroom in semi-random locations. How do they get on or off these spining donuts? How is the station even remotely balanced? If everyone lives in a spinning donut why are there three small ones instead of one big one? why do the donuts counter-rotate compared to the station itself? Well, they didn’t think about that.