Opening the Mystery Box That Is ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’

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What Is The Cloverfield Paradox?

The Cloverfield Paradox is the third entry into the “Cloververse;” a shared cinematic universe that kicked off with 2008’s Cloverfield, continued in 2016 with 10 Cloverfield Lane, and–surprise!–with last night’s unexpected release of The Cloverfield Paradox.

For nearly a year, there has been speculation that the film then known as The God Particle was secretly the third installment in the “Cloververse”. As with most projects from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production house, The Cloverfield Paradox was completely shrouded in mystery. Rumors about the film’s possible plot and potential purchase by Netflix circulated before the film’s title was even released in a trailer that aired during the second quarter of Super Bowl LII.

The biggest surprise of the night was not the trailer, confirmation of the film’s title, nor its stated connection to the 2008 film, but the fact that The Cloverfield Paradox would be available right after the Super Bowl, mere hours after the first trailer dropped.

 

What Is This “Cloververse” Of Which You Speak?

The first entry in the series, 2008’s Cloverfield, was one of Bad Robot’s first secret-keeping successes. The first trailer for the film released in summer 2007. At that time, the film didn’t even have a title and was shooting under the name Cloverfield, a reference to the exit off of I-10 in Santa Monica, which leads to the Bad Robot production offices. You can view the original teaser trailer below.

As you can see at the end of the teaser, the film’s release date of January 18, 2008 (1-18-08) is given, but no title.

In the months between the release of the trailer and the film’s premier, speculation swirled online. This was the era of alternate reality marketing, which Bad Robot had employed with success between the first and second season of the ABC television series LOST. Speculation over what the film was about was stoked by the idea that the information was out there, if you could only solve the puzzle. Even a misheard line at the 1:23 mark in the trailer above (“I saw it, it’s alive!” was misunderstood by some as “I saw it, it’s a lion!”, fueling speculation that this mysterious film was a live action Voltron movie… I kid you not) added to the enigma. Websites cropped up, some official, others fan created, purporting to have some connection to the kaiju film that would officially release as Cloverfield.

At one point in the film, the cameraman Hud, voiced by T.J. Miller, spots another person on the streets with a camera, filming the destruction taking place in New York City. The two turn and briefly film one another, planting the seed that there were a number of stories that could be told from the point of view of different people who experienced the destruction of New York, but the idea of a Cloverfield sequel or side story fizzled out as the 2000s became the early 2010s.

Fast forward to January 15, 2016–nearly eight years to the day after Cloverfield premiered–when out of nowhere the following trailer dropped in theaters:

That’s right, a second film utilizing the “Cloverfield” name had been filmed and produced in relative secret. The speculation machine fired up once again. How was this mysterious new film connected to Cloverfield? How had they kept this secret–again!–in an industry known for leaks? Rather than marketing the film with as much advance buzz as they could muster, the Bad Robot team elected to let the mystery and the name recognition garnered from the break out success of the original film to sell the new installment.

Utilizing many of the same websites built to add to the mystery around the 2008 film, most notably Tagruato.jp, a fictitious Japanese energy company that exists in the “Cloververse”, the viral marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane whipped fans of the original into a frenzy. Thus, the film adapted from a script originally called The Cellar was released as 10 Cloverfield Lane on March 10, 2016.

As for how 10 Cloverfield Lane was connected to Cloverfield… it would be stretching to say that the former was even tenuously connected to the latter at all. Many fans were hoping for a direct sequel to the original, if not a story told from a different perspective during the events that unfolded in Cloverfield; something that built upon the mystery of the original. Instead, fans were treated with a taut thriller about a young woman held against her will in a doomsday prepper-type of bunker, potentially “for her own good.” It is only in the film’s final act that there is anything resembling the sci-fi strangeness of the original film, and the element introduced had no apparent connection to Cloverfield at all.

10 Cloverfield Lane was regarded by many as a good thriller, but not a film that built upon nor fleshed out the “Cloververse”.

How Does The Cloverfield Paradox Fit Into The “Cloververse”?

Early speculation was that The Cloverfield Paradox, then referred to by the script title The God Particle, would be another anthology film that connected more tonally with Cloverfield, in the same vein as 10 Cloverfield Lane, than actually build upon the world of the original entry in the “Cloververse.” Those who had access to the original script spoke of a story set in space aboard a particle accelerator, where an incident endangers all of reality. To be honest, that description sounded like it potentially had more in common with the events depicted in the final act of 10 Cloverfield Lane than in the original film.

As you can see from the above trailer, those assumptions were wrong.

Just as The Cellar was adapted to fit into the “Cloververse,” so was the The God Particle. The story of a crew aboard an orbiting particle accelerator remains the film’s focus. The twist that fits the story into the “Cloververse” is that the events aboard the space station–named The Cloverfield–take place shortly before, concurrent with, and shortly after the events depicted in Cloverfield. What’s more, the incident aboard the station causes the “Cloverfield Paradox,” which is responsible for the events in the original film.

In The Cloverfield Paradox, the world’s energy resources are being rapidly depleted, leading the nations of the world–particularly those in Europe and Asia–to the brink of war. The Cloverfield is put into orbit with an international crew and the hope that the particle accelerator aboard, the largest ever assembled, will be able to provide enough energy for the world’s population in perpetuity because that’s what the plot needs it to do, by way of nebulous science-fiction. The film’s main characters are Ava Hamilton, one of the crew members aboard the Cloverfield, and her estranged husband, a doctor on earth whose name I can’t remember and I’m not sure even matters to the film.

After almost two years and nearly 50 failed attempts to get the particle accelerator working, the crew is beyond edgy. Tensions are escalating on the earth, even as scientists warn that successful firing of the particle accelerator could punch a hole in space/time. Something they probably should have thought of before committing the material and energy resources to building the Cloverfield and its particle accelerator, huh? The result of such an incident could include awakening “demons,” “monsters,” and “beasts from the bottom of the sea.” I’m not making this up. That’s the shoehorned connection to the Cloverfield kaiju.

A quick aside: in press done in conjunction with and shortly after the original film’s release, Cloverfield‘s director and producers have commented that the film’s monstrous, towering kaiju is just a scared adolescent running in fear and pain, not some malevolent evil entity. I bring this up only because remembering this ancillary bit of story makes The Cloverfield Paradox’s final shot that much more satisfying.

None of the above is spoiler material, as that all takes place in the first 15 to 20 minutes. Nor is it all that spoilery to state that once the crew gets the particle accelerator working, that’s when things begin to go sideways both on the station and on earth.

Do I Need To Have Seen The First Two Films To Understand The Cloverfield Paradox?

The short answer is “No.” The Cloverfield Paradox is a sci-fi thriller that mostly works as a stand-alone film. That said, it does help to have some familiarity with the 2008 film. You don’t “need” to have seen Cloverfield first to enjoy The Cloverfield Paradox. Some might even argue that The Cloverfield Paradox is a better gateway into the “Cloververse” because it provides some sense of “how” to the events depicted in the original film.

Of the three films, there is the most connective tissue between Cloverfield and The Cloverfield Paradox. 10 Cloverfield Lane sort of stands alone as its own thing. I wonder if there will be a film that attempts to bridge it back in with the other two films in the series.

What Did You Think Of The Cloverfield Paradox?

The sci-fi of the movie was, frankly, pretty shoddy, as was the connecting of The God Particle script with the “Cloververse.” That said, the story proper–the pieces aboard the Cloverfield–is good. Plenty of twists and turns and wrinkles thrown in to keep the crew off-balance, even if most of the beats are pretty clichéd. The film does a good job of building the atmospheric horror early on, which gives way to more dark comedy about midway through, then changes to a more dramatic and emotional punch late in the film as you learn more about why Hamilton is aboard the Cloverfield in the first place.

If you can turn off the intellectual analysis of the problems and plot holes in the film and just enjoy it as a sci-fi B-movie set in the “Cloververse”, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy in The Cloverfield Paradox. Releasing the movie on Netflix right after the Super Bowl for a late night change of pace was absolutely the right move.

What If I Want to Watch Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane?

Go for it! I enjoyed both of them, for what they were. Cloverfield is not currently streaming on the major subscription services, but is available for digital rental and/or purchase at a number of online sources, which is a bit of a shame, since that is the film most closely connected to The Cloverfield Paradox. 10 Cloverfield Lane is currently streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant Video (but, oddly, not on Netflix).

What’s Next For The “Cloververse?”

As you can imagine, anything that happens in the “Cloververse” is a tightly-guarded secret. That said, there is speculation that the next entry in the series has already been filmed and is in post-production. Bad Robot is producing a film with the working title Overlord, which has a scheduled release date of October 26, 218. The film was shot in secret in May 2017. Little is known about the plot, other than it is said to focus on a pair of Allied paratroopers who are shot down over Normandy during the D-Day invasion of World War II, who discover that the Nazis have harnessed some sort of supernatural power (the Ark of the Covenant, perhaps?) and are using it on the battlefield.

Could this be the next entry in the “Cloververse?” We’ll have to wait and see whether a trailer drops this summer for this film, and whether the actual title has “Cloverfield” somewhere in its name.

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