When discussing this article with Chris, I initially told him that I was going to write a defense of Cloverfield Paradox. After thinking about it for a minute, I amended that to support. First, I’m sick of defending things that I like from people who don’t like them. You don’t like something? Fine, but at least come up with a reasonable defense of why you don’t like it. We live in a culture that has glorified hate simply for the sport of it.
It has most recently coalesced around the release of Black Panther. I knew from the beginning that the release of the movie was going to be an epic crap storm of racists posting, tweeting, and outright lying about both the movie and the events surrounding the movie. True to form and the human condition (of which I am both amazingly inspired and terrifyingly suspect), things were much worse that I could ever have expected.
But, this article isn’t about Black Panther. There will be an article about Black Panther once I get around to seeing it. I’ve been so busy with my 3 jobs that I haven’t had a chance. This article is about Cloverfield Paradox specifically and the Cloverfield “franchise” in general. I put franchise in quotes because nobody is entirely sure if these movies actually share anything in common other than the fact that JJ Abrams has chosen to take movies, insert out of context plot elements into them, and let people argue over what those out of context elements might mean.
“Okay,” some of you are saying, “you are making our argument for us. I thought you said this was going to be an article supporting the movie.” Well, you can interpret that last statement as a negative if you want. I think that says more about you than I ever could. I was simply stating a fact. As of right now, there is no judgement in that statement. The judgement comes next.
Marketing: If there’s been one consistent in the three movies that can loosely be called a franchise, it is that they have mastered marketing. The first one was involved in a ridiculously intricate viral web campaign back when that was a thing that led people chasing wild goose after wild goose. Not being one to be in the loop on these things, I had no idea about any of it until after I saw the movie and went searching for some background information. For some reason, I don’t care all that much about the origins of Godzilla or King Kong. But, this movie left just enough unsaid that I wanted to know more.
The second movie was so under the radar that I only peripherally knew about it because it used the word Cloverfield in the title. Huh, I thought, that’s weird that it is called 10 Cloverfield Lane. For some reason, though, this curiosity didn’t lead me to explore further. Probably because they marketed it as a completely different movie. It was a closed house thriller along the lines of Panic Room. Or, so I thought.
It wasn’t until the third movie that I realized that there were three. Netflix released this movie after the Super Bowl ended, showing that they can basically just beam stuff into your brain, or they will be able to once they figure out the technology, truly on demand. Well, at least on me (someone who isn’t often affected by ridiculous gimmicks), it worked and I stayed up until almost 2 o’clock in the morning watching the movie even though I had to be up at 7 for work. Furthermore, I wasn’t upset that I had given up sleep.
Science?: For a science fiction movie, the science of the movie wasn’t the focus. While that isn’t unusual, this seemed like the type of science fiction movie that wanted to focus on the science and have the option for fiction due to the science. Does that make sense? Probably not, so I’ll try to explain.
I don’t go into Star Wars expecting exact, or even accurate, science. Nerds are constantly trying to point to the fact that hyperspace can’t possibly be real and that lightsabers are physically impossible, but I simply don’t care. The latest nerd rage came when (spoiler alert), the ship jumped to lightspeed and blew up the other ship. That’s not why I’m at Star Wars. I’m there for the pew, pew, the vwoom, vwoom, and the music mostly. The plot is basic and some of the characters are cool, but for me Star Wars is just the comfy blankie from when I was younger.
Other science fiction stories try to get it right. They mostly fail, but at least they put some science stuff in there to make it seem like they know what the hell they’re talking about. I’m referring to the disaster movies like Twister or Armageddon. They throw all kinds of smart stuff out there for what they believe is the benefit of the audience to keep them in the fiction. Ultimately, though, they just end up sounding foolish and like theater people that failed science in high school.
At the beginning of the movie, I thought that the Cloverfield Paradox was going to be like the second type of movie. Because JJ Abrams made Star Trek more like that type of movie with the dark matter explanation. I should have known better. JJ Abrams likes to think that he’s one step ahead of people and zig when they expect him to zag. I wasn’t exactly zigged or zagged. Just a bit surprised.
The movie starts with some discussion of physics and the physics of alternate realities. Past, present, future, distorted time and space, that sort of thing. Then, it gets real quiet about it and just lets the science sort of tell the story. There is some mention later in the movie, but they don’t keep hitting you over the head with what is happening. Really, in my opinion, this is the best way to do things. Give the science and then just get the hell out of the way.
Weird: As a result of the introduction of quantum physics into the movie, they can make it weird and have a reason for it being weird. Because people, including those like me who only study it as a hobby, don’t completely understand the science behind it, you can do almost anything and it becomes plausible in the fiction.
While this kind of story can make some people uncomfortable, I absolutely love it. It gets my brain moving and causes me to think. Since most entertainment is just about turning off our brains and marveling (pun fully intended) at the two freaks of nature punching each other, I find it refreshing when something comes along and challenges me to be a little more active in the process.
Just Dumb Fun: I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook about the movie. See, I posted there that I had watched it the night of the Super Bowl and then suddenly, I started seeing posts about it in my feed. It’s built into Facebook’s mind reading…er, algorithms. You get stuff that they think you want to see. It’s not that I didn’t want to see other opinions. It’s just a little unsettling anytime that Facebook gets that far into your brain.
He was one of the people who didn’t particularly care for the movie. I had no idea that there was such a backlash to it until I noticed that he didn’t like the movie, so I went in search of other opinions counter to my own. I saw that there were, in fact, people who didn’t like the movie. And, it wasn’t just that they didn’t like the movie. They really didn’t like the movie. That was how his post came across. He really didn’t like this movie.
Well, armed with this new information, I decided to show my support. I responded, “I liked it. It was just dumb fun.” He replied, “Is that what we’ve come to expect from this franchise?” I was dumbfounded. Suddenly Cloverfield is a venerated franchise that we’ve come to expect things from? I mean, it was ultimately revealed that the first one was about a giant baby monster destroying Manhattan in a temper tantrum because he missed his mommy. That’s a fairly ridiculous premise. I know what you’re probably thinking right now. This movie both made you think and was just dumb fun? What the hell?
Note: I’m going to change the format a bit for this article. I couldn’t argue anything negative about the movie. That’s not to say that it is a perfect movie. I wouldn’t even argue that it’s a great movie. But, it was a good movie and that’s how I want to remember it. Since I am mostly a positive person, instead of arguing my own bad, I will argue against the negatives that I’ve seen online and elsewhere. Besides, the article is supposed to be in support of the movie.
Not related to the other movies: I have seen and heard this argument made more and more in the weeks since the movie was released. Most recently, I’ve heard it argued as being a movie that was another movie that got bought out by JJ Abrams production company, slapped some Cloverfield paint on it, and released it straight to Netflix. This argument goes on to say that the “Netflix Exclusive” label is starting to lose some of its shine and starting to become this generation’s “Straight to cable/DVD”. I won’t argue with that. Netflix has had some strong original programming, but they are starting to get a little lazy with their originals lately.
This movie might be an extension of that and the fact that JJ Abrams seems to have created this “world” in which he can just drop some monsters or aliens, put the “Cloverfield” label on the movie, market it with some intrigue, and people will watch. I certainly did. But, I will argue that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve had a discussion with a few people, including those who are involved in creative careers and they all agree that every now and then you just have to shut off your brain and have fun. Not everything needs to be a life changing experience. So what if Abrams has demystified the Cloverfield mystique? Honestly, if it could be taken away that quickly, was it really even there to begin with?
Confusing: The other argument that I’ve heard against the movie is that it is confusing. Honestly, if this is a complaint that you have about the movie, I can’t really help you. As I mentioned earlier, it is weird (even campy), but that weirdness gets an explanation almost as soon as the movie starts. Again, some have pointed to this explanation as evidence of the previous point. Again, I won’t argue against that. Clearly, Cloverfield isn’t a franchise in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, every few years, we will get another “Cloverfield” movie.
Back to the explanation. Donal Logue, who I know as the stoner guy from VH1’s “I Love the….” series, is a paranoid YouTube personality (Maybe? It was very late/early in the morning when I watched it) that explains that by doing what they are about to do, they can affect multiple dimension, past, present, future. Call it lazy. Call it irresponsible. Call it whatever else you want to call it. I call it genius. In one reshoot, they explained the whole damn thing and set it up for whatever the hell they want to do going forward.
I’ve written several times of the toxic influence of the internet and how quickly things can spread. I had always hoped, perhaps naively, that would mean that information could become so ubiquitous as to make it irrelevant in the constant power struggle that we seem to have set up for ourselves and our species. I never considered that it is just as easy to spread misinformation and disinformation and lead to an increase in that struggle. I suppose I should have. I also suppose that I should be grateful. As an educator, I am a professional mythbusters, so the more myths, the more busting I have to do.
As a result of the ease with which information travels over this superhighway, fringe elements have become just as “reliable” as the general consensus for a lot of things. People who shout that they are mad about a black stormtrooper in Star Wars might only be a couple of dudes in their mom’s basement posting the same message over and over on message boards and social media. Due to the overly reactionary news cycle, someone picks it up, and then it becomes a platform upon which people are willing to fight and die.
I don’t know if this Cloverfield Paradox reaction is indicative of the majority or simply a fringe element. I do know that it hasn’t been met with the same vitriol as some of the other movies that have become a target recently. People are mostly just disappointed, which makes me think that it is a genuine reaction. However, the fact that there were such high expectations going into the movie that those expectations would not be met is puzzling to me.
Note: A visit to Rotten Tomatoes shows that it has a 17% with critics and a 48% (with a 3.1 out of 5 star average, so not sure how that works) score with fans, so it appears to be more or less not great by most standards.
Is Cloverfield Paradox a great movie? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Cloverfield Paradox a good movie? Not by many traditional measures, no. Is Cloverfield Paradox an entertaining movie? Yes, I can confirm that my sleep deprived brain got full entertainment from the movie.
And, honestly, that’s all I’ve come to expect from the movies. The first one was silly, dumb fun. I never saw the second one, but it sounds like it might have been the one to set expectations so high for this one. Although, from the sounds of it, the ending should have drawn the battle lines pretty clear for people. There are no rules in these universes. Anything goes. Be prepared for good, bad, ugly, and the just plain silly. Have some fun with it. Or don’t. We’ll keep on doing our thing.