Tuesday, February 6, 2018

‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ would be doomed without Netflix

Just like with Bright, Netflix’s awful but wildly successful Will Smith film, it doesn’t matter if The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah, is any good. It’s a vehicle for hype — just take a look at how the internet reacted to its surprise availability last night (yes, I was a part of that too). While there were other high-profile trailer premiers during the Super Bowl — notably a glimpse at Solo and Mission Impossible: Fallout — only Netflix could immediately turn that hype into viewers. Disney will have to keep people’s attention for months to make them see Solo. That’s power.

It helps that the Cloverfield franchise has a certain amount of clout among genre fans, as well as a history of surprising audiences. The original 2008 film was produced in secret by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, unveiled to the world as an untitled teaser and relied on viral marketing to generate buzz. (To put things in perspective, that campaign made heavy use of MySpace and text messaging.) Some media watchers speculated that it could be a Lost tie-in, or a sequel to Godzilla. A large part of the film’s early appeal is that we simply didn’t know what it was. 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, meanwhile, was announced just two months before its release and also relied heavily on viral marketing (and a wide-eyed John Goodman).

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While the Cloverfield movies aren’t directly related (though the trailer for the Netflix film implies a strong connection to the original), they don’t need a meticulous shared universe, a la the Marvel films, to have some marketing power. At the very least, we know a Cloverfield story is going to be some sort of exercise in science fiction. They’re almost like feature-length Twilight Zone episodes with much better special effects. Genre fans are going to lap up every entry in the series, but Netflix also knows that the name is enough to intrigue mainstream viewers just looking for something to watch.

In many ways, this surprise release is the best outcome possible for The Cloverfield Paradox. I found it to be an entertaining film, with a great cast and some genuinely inventive set pieces. But it’s also the sort of film that wouldn’t have had much legs in theaters.

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