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Cloverfield: The Netflix Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is a thoroughly boring, disappointingly average Movie that no one would have bothered with if not for its name and unique marketing stunt. The movie certainly has potential, but despite its relatively short runtime, 1 hour, 42 minutes, it meanders on and on, relentlessly putting the viewer to sleep. It’s not as if this movie was a lost cause however. The premise is intriguing and there’s a very talented cast assembled. Though one of them, Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero) perplexingly states all of her lines in Chinese while everyone else speaks English, and yet no one has any trouble understanding each other. I suspect this may have to do with the now cancelled theatrical release, Paramount hoping a big name like Ziyi would help sell the movie in China. In spite of this misfire however, I would not count first-time feature-length director Julius Onah down just yet. I didn’t like the first Cloverfield, but now its director, Matt Reeves, has gone on to direct two modern masterpieces in Dawn and War for the Planet of the Apes, the latter being my personal Best of 2017, and it now set to direct the next Batman trilogy. The director of the truly great 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg, has gone on to direct the critically acclaimed “Playtest” episode of the British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror (of which Paradox admittedly feels like a lesser episode of), and is set to direct a movie on famous escape artist Harry Houdini. Perhaps Onah is an untapped talent whose vision was meddled in the chaotic post-production cycle of Paradox. As it stands however, Paradox is not as terrible as many have called it, but it is so thoroughly dull that the only value is if you for some reason have had a bizarre desire to see endless close-ups of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s (Jupiter Ascending, Free State of Jones) face giving endless sad and crying faces.

Okay, now that that’s over with, I literally have nothing else to talk about regarding the product itself as a movie. It was literally that boring. I am much more fascinated by this movie’s chaotic production and release cycles and marketing than I am the movie itself. So Paradox came into production around the same time that 10 Cloverfield Lane did, both being pitched in 2012 under the titles “God Particle” and “The Cellar”. JJ Abrams was reportedly impressed with the scripts and bought them under his production company Bad Robot Productions. With regards to Lane, Abrams must have realized in today’s movie landscape, a movie like that would have no chance at the box office. So Abrams decided it was a good time to revive the Cloverfield brand, knowing that would get people talking.

Both movies were shot completely in secret and set to be released under Bad Robot and InSurge Pictures, Paramount’s brand label for low-budget movies. Lane was announced with a surprise trailer attached to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, two months before the movie’s release in MArch 2016. I remember that day in the theater, seeing that trailer play. It was terrifying! I had no idea what to expect then, but I was turned off when I saw the “Cloverfield” brand, not being a fan of the first one, and didn’t see it until summer 2017.

Paradox, for a while in official press releases still called God Particle, was meant to release the following year after Lane. However, the movie became mired in post-production chaos. The problem behind it I believe is that everyone forgot this franchise’s head honcho, JJ Abrams, is a very busy man. The cast of Lane did not even know it was connected to Cloverfield until a few days before the release of the trailer in January 2016. Even then Abrams had not thought of that title until after wrapping up production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In addition to being the man in charge of Cloverfield and helping Disney and Lucasfilm shepherd Star Wars, Abrams is also an executive producer on HBO’s and Jonathan Nolan’s (Batman Begins, Person of Interest) Westworld television series, a producer on Hulu’s limited series 11.23.63 and upcoming Castle Rock, and producer on Paramount’s own Mission Impossible and Star Trek franchises. Reportedly, Abrams’ production duties on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the behind the scenes troubles that eventually led to his becoming director of Star Wars: Episode IX are what prevented him from becoming involved in the necessary post-production work for Paradox, causing repeated the repeated delays in release, as the post-production work was constantly delayed.

The result of this constant delaying in the post-production work caused Paradox’s budget to balloon from $5 million to $45 million. Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos felt, admittedly not unreasonably, that this film was not worth the hassle of a theatrical release and would not be able to breakeven at the box office.

Somehow, Netflix received word of this and saw a golden opportunity to generate buzz for itself and perhaps make more cash from the popularity and mysterious nature of the franchise, however Netflix makes its money. We all just know it cannot be from subscription fees alone, right? Netflix reportedly paid $50 million for Paradox, finishing negotiations literally just weeks from the eventual release of the film, making it instantly profitable to Paramount. Paramount retains release rights in China (of course) and home entertainment release (DVD/Blu-Ray) rights.
The cast reportedly were unaware of this entire arrangement until the day of the Super Bowl, finding out that morning during a conference call. Then came the now-famous quick advertisement during the Super Bowl announcing to the world the release of the movie merely hours later, right after the game! This was a brilliant stroke of marketing genius, as it plays directly into the mysterious nature of the franchise itself! Whoever thought of this deserves a good pay raise! It’s just a shame that the marketing stunt was not in service of a better movie.
Paramount has stated this is a one time deal, to offset the costs of the chaotic production of Paradox. All future installments of Cloverfield are planned for a theatrical release. The next installment, known as Overlord, is set for a theatrical release on October 26, 2018. This deal gives me concern however, as it comes on the heels of the recent sale to Netflix of the international distribution rights of another Paramount sci-fi horror/thriller movie, Annihilation, with Paramount retaining theatrical/release rights for the US, Canada, and China, because Paramount worried it was “too intellectual” for audiences”. This combined with the sale from Universal Studios of yet ANOTHER sci-fi horror/thriller movie, Extinction, to Netflix, is this the beginning of a worrying trend? Is Netflix just going to become a willing dumping ground for any sci-fi horror/thriller considered not profitable enough or “too intellectual”? Is this an easy way for movie studios and/or Netflix to write off their taxes now? I hope not.

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Cloverfield: The Netflix Paradox

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