1/10 Paramount Pictures decided just a few weeks ago that selling The Cloverfield Project to Netflix would be more profitable than releasing it in theaters, and they were almost certainly right. While Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane rode critical acclaim to $170.8 million and $110.2 million grosses worldwide, Paradox would have been booed out of theaters within two weeks.
Aboard the Cloverfield space station, an international team lead by Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) has spent almost two years in orbit trying to solve the world’s energy crisis with some kind of science experiment while geopolitics unravel below them. They team is met with a sudden success, and then disaster — the infinite energy device works, but it invokes some kind of reality-alteration paradox, and the Earth disappears. Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and the rest of the crew must figure out where they are in space and how to get home before the Cloverfield disintegrates or they fall victim to the completely random destruction wrought by this paradox that’s never really explained.
The Cloverfield Paradox is like watching a small child play make-believe — with only slightly better special effects. The horror gimmick is that reality is warping and that there are no rules, so every so often something will go haywire and the characters have to deal with it, but what this creates is a story driven not by by characters’ desires and decisions, but by abject randomness. The only thing you can count on is something vaguely freaky happening every 10 minutes or so to keep viewers invested, but there’s no reason to get invested in the first place.
While the central conceit should at least open the door for boundless creativity, the random horror generator can only generate deathtraps that feel all too familiar. There’s a fire death and an ice death and a noble sacrifice spacewalk death. There’s one character who, after reality warps, has all the station’s test worms teleported inside of him, and he dies when they explode outward in a messy, poorly handled Alien homage. Why did they explode? Why were they onboard in the first place? Who cares.
Outside of its cast, which is a low-key all-star list of talents with little fame but large individual followings, it’s tough to imagine this having ever been planned for the big screen. Its production values are much more in line with Dr. Who or ‘90s Star Trek.
With nothing stringy like themes or even a basic cause-effect chain of events to hold onto, The Cloverfield Paradox is ready-made for drunken, half-dressed home viewings where you can loudly crunch your Cheetos as you yell at, then mock, then quietly tune out the unintelligible garbage playing out on your computer screen. It’s the kind of remorselessly unengaging experience that millions of people will be glad they didn’t pay to see.
Well, millions of people who don’t realize that Netflix isn’t actually free.
The streaming pioneer’s slate of feature films is a long story of increasingly bolder action, but its handling of The Cloverfield Paradox, which was announced to an estimated 103.4 million Superbowl viewers mere hours before being made available, was a major step further. It was revealed yesterday that Netflix paid Paramount $50 million for the rights to the film, which barely eclipses its $45 million production value — though Paramount is no doubt delighted to have not spent the $20-30 million bare minimum it would have taken to market the project — and that airtime for the big game cost about $5 million per 30 seconds this year. That makes this a pretty expensive stunt for a movie they probably knew no one would like, but much less expensive and almost certainly much more profitable than it would have been for Paramount to see things through.
The general film critic circle was reportedly peeved that they didn’t get to see the film in advance, and movies that don’t get special critic screenings generally do get far fewer reviews and are generally looked down on. I do like seeing mainstream critics dragged down to my level, though.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.