The Cloverfield Paradox is an apt title for the third entry in this marketing experiment that masquerades as a franchise of coherently linked films; as the franchise itself stands at somewhat of a paradox. On one hand, it manages to be one of Hollywood’s more intriguing properties in terms of marketing, release, and the anthology-like nature of the series. On the other hand, it has to be one of Hollywood’s laziest and most cynical franchises. This juxtaposition – these qualities that seem impossible to reconcile – at the very least allow the franchise to stand-out as a unique entity in the vast ocean of repetitive, cyclical corporate film making that is contemporary Hollywood.
The first Cloverfield was a fascinating piece of work in regards to the marketing campaign. Very little information was given, and the viral campaign led to an incredible amount of excitement and hype upon release. What we got was, unfortunately, a headache-inducing mess of a film that managed to be considerably less interesting than the marketing itself. Then – out of the blue – again with little marketing, came 10 Cloverfield Lane, which at least managed to do something the original could not; it was a good film. This time the quality of the mysterious marketing (or lack of) matched the quality of the film itself.
Unfortunately, the accusations of laziness are very valid, as 10 Cloverfield Lane was not originally written as a Cloverfield film. It was a completely separate spec-script called The Cellar. Abrams – the king of making money from other people’s work – took it, produced it, and splashed the Cloverfield name on it, also forcing in the links to the previous film. Fortunately, on this occasion, it worked. Unfortunately, Abrams’ didn’t know when to quit, and this leads us to The Cloverfield Paradox. Again, it was an intriguing marketing campaign – dropping on Netflix less than two hours after the very first trailer was revealed – which, on paper, is a very clever way to funnel the Superbowl audience over to Netflix once the game has finished. However, on this occasion, the film itself – originally titled The God Particle – completely fails, and is an inconsistent, incoherent mess of a motion picture.
The narrative is, frankly, ludicrous, but essentially boils down to this: Mankind is running out of power, and everyone’s terrified we’ll be going to war soon. So, they send up a massive particle accelerator, that, apparently, if it works, can create renewable energy for the rest of time. When we pick up the film, they only have enough energy for three more attempts. As they begin the first, they overhear a podcast where a conspiracy theorist talks about how we could end up tearing a hole in the fabric of space time and pulling through all kinds of terrible things. If you can’t predict what happens next, well, I can only assume you’ve never seen a film before.
And here in lies the film’s first major problem – it tells you everything within the first five minutes, meaning that there is no mystery or intrigue to the bizarre goings on afterwards. We know, from the conspiracy theorist, that a rip in space-time and a crashing of dimensions is possible, so what happens next is stupidly easy to figure out; but, the film has the audacity – and thinks so little of your intelligence – that it actually tries to present it as a mystery. I’ve never had a screenplay produced, so perhaps I’m in no position to offer advice, but what can say is this: if you want to write a film based on surrealistic mystery, it’s not a great idea to literally tell your audience what’s going to happen. I hoped, sincerely, that the podcast would be a red herring; but nope, that’s exactly what happens. They tear a hole in space-time, two dimensions collide and overlap, and then some seriously stupid events happen.
This writing issue isn’t just prevalent to the opening; it litters the entire film. Characters constantly tell us – the dumb audience who can’t figure anything out for ourselves, of course – what is happening, what is going to happen, and why they are there. Conversation upon conversation happens where nothing that a real human being would ever say is said. It makes no sense that these scientists who have been on this station for some time would now be having conversations that would have happened in the briefing before they left Earth, but hey, lazy writers have got to convey information somehow, right?
It’s the pinnacle of Hollywood’s half-baked, unimaginative script-writing. The characterisations are also pretty boring, vanilla and nobody is particularly engaging. There’s the traditional astronaut who misses their family plot-line, the dodgy German, the aggressive Russian, the comedic-relief Irishman. It’s nothing more than a series of caricatures, seen throughout the history of cinema, that never really engage with you or give you a reason to care. It’s a shame, really, because the cast features some incredible talent – all of which who have shined in superior projects – and they do, to their credit, try to the best of their capabilities to drag salvage this mess. Mbatha-Raw – of Black Mirror fame – does give a genuinely emotional performance worthy of praise…unfortunately, that performance is of a character who lacks any real character, so it’s utterly wasted.
Same can be said for Buhr – known primarily for Inglorious Basterds – who, again, tries his best to make this horrible script actually work, but alas, cannot do it. The cinematography is also pretty damn good, considering it seemingly had a limited budget – at least by Hollywood standards. The CGI is almost believable, the shot composition does work, and the whole production looks pretty great. It’s no masterclass in cinematography by any stretch, but it is visually appealing, which is possibly why I managed to get through the entire ordeal. The most annoying part of this whole experience is that they actually set up an intriguing idea; from Twin Peaks to X-Files, I’ve always had a personal fascination with the idea of the multiverse and how our technology can create ripples throughout space time.
So, knowing from the telegraphing that was the direction they were heading in, my attention was held for a reasonable amount of time, awaiting the delivery of the almost endless plethora of potential scenarios that could have come from this. What we got was a horrific misunderstanding of science that just makes absolutely zero sense, switches from scenario to scenario with little rhyme or reason, and also features a sub-plot on Earth that adds literally nothing to do the film other than a half-baked attempt at manufactured sentimentality and a lazy link to 10 Cloverfield Lane that thinks it’s far more intelligent and subtle than it really is. Now, I understand the concept of artistic licence; Science-Fiction is fiction, and consequently does not have to be 100% accurate. However, when you take the time out to explain directly to the audience what is happening – and use a genuine scientific thesis as the basis for your plot – you better make sure that science is at least somewhat accurate.
Clearly, Oren Uziel has skimmed a few quantam physics books but hasn’t seemed to actually understand what they were telling him. An arm, for example, can not be sentiently controlled by a person in another dimension; that is not how particles interacting through dimensions works, and it creates a really confusing dynamic, where, the only explanation that could work is supernatural goings-on, but the film painfully explains that there are no supernatural elements, and this all science. Sadly, the science makes no sense…which raises so many questions; why not just leave it ambiguous? Why not just have the question of ‘is this supernatural or something more?’ be the driving mystery of the film, before revealing the answer towards the end, if ever? It just seems like a great concept that could have been so fantastic, but is butchered on every level. I would talk about the score, as well, as I usually do, but honestly I don’t recall it. I don’t think it was actively bad, but nothing that really stands out. With an inconsistent and jarring tone – flopping between serious Sci-Fi and weird physical humour that feels ripped out of The Three Stooges – The Cloverfield Paradox is just that; an unfathomable paradox of a film that doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny, and will almost certainly leave you scratching your head in bemusement; not at the bizarre goings-on, but at the bizarre creative process of this film. Instead of asking yourself ‘Why is this happening?’ you’ll be asking questions such as ‘Why did the writer do this?’, ‘Who thought this was a good idea?’ and ‘Why didn’t they ask an actual scientist for some form of guidance so as to not make complete fools of themselves?’.
It’s like a really bad version of Event Horizon – an underrated gem, for those who have never seen it – but it does one answer at the very least: Why was this released on Netflix? The answer is not because it was a genius marketing technique – though it did work, so credit where it’s due – but rather because they knew they had a toxic piece of shit on their hands that would have flopped spectacularly at the box-office. Fingers crossed, this will be the death knell of the lazy ‘experiment’ – an experiment that consists of taking other people’s original scripts and slapping the name Cloverfield on it – that is the Cloverfield franchise.
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