The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Not long before he released 10 Cloverfield Lane, J.J. Abrams talked about his desire to develop Cloverfield into an anthology series of films.  With the release of the latest entry, perhaps the nature of this very strange series of films is beginning to take shape.

While the first film was a found footage monster movie, the second was a psychological thriller with a twist ending.  So it hardly seems that much of a surprise that the latest entry is more of a spooky mystery set aboard a space station.

10 Cloverfield Lane began life as a script with no connection to the Cloververse which Abrams “repurposed” with a few references to the original.  Pretty much the same thing happened here, although more so:  his Bad Robot production company had a film entitled “God Particle” in the works, but had run into a number of production glitches, which had pushed the price almost up to Fifty Million.  It had already started filming when Abrams tweaked it into another installment in the series, and they had to reshoot a few scenes and add the name “Cloverfield” to the exterior of the station.  He then dumped the film onto Netflix, thus instantly making his entire costs back, and launched one of the strangest promotion campaigns of any in his long career of viral promotions:  Abrams announced the film’s release in a Super Bowl commercial — and then began streaming the film immediately after the game!

In the film’s not too distant future, the world is facing a devastating energy shortage, which is threatening to reduce the entire world into a state of war.  Meanwhile, the crew of Cloverfield Station are testing a dangerous new particle accelerator — The Shepard — which will produce an endless stream of free energy .  If it works.  But a crackpot scientist (who just happens to have the same last name as John Goodman in the previous film) has warned the world that it will release monsters and demons into the world as it crushes alternate dimensions together to create all that “free” energy.

And, of course, after months of hard work, when the crew of Cloverfield Station finally get the reactor working, all hell does in fact break loose.

One might compare the film to Event Horizon, although on the whole its mixture of creepy mystery and out and out horror is more successful, partly because it doesn’t break down into mere frenetic action and random violence, and partly because some of the things that happen are so utterly bizarre, like the mysterious appearance of a new crew member in a particularly horrible way, the location of the lost gyroscope, or the message left by a severed arm.

After reading all the negative reviews, I was surprised to find this a reasonably interesting SF film, with a few quirky twists and a stunning final revelation that ties it back to the first film.  I suspect the fact that Abrams didn’t provide review copies to the critics ahead of time might have a lot to do with those reviews, as the critics tend to get a bit cranky when you don’t pamper them.  On the whole, while the seven crew members aren’t particularly memorable, they all perform reasonably well, with Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel‘s Chris O’Dowd the standout.  I find it rather curious that Ziyi Zhang’s dialogue is all in Mandarin (I don’t think she utters a single English word in the entire film) — and without subtitles, at that.

And she does have quite a bit to say.

While this isn’t a great film, it does boast impressive visuals, more than its share of surprises, and some very clever ideas.  I’m not sure you have to have seen the other two films to appreciate this one — even if you have, you might not spot a lot of the things tying them together.

Apparently the next Cloverfield film is set to debut in the theaters this fall, this time with a World War II setting.  As Abrams is making these films using a trick Steven Soderbergh used for his first Ocean’s sequel — finding a good existing script and rewriting it to fit — I am hopeful that they will continue to be interesting and clever, no mater how tenuous the connections may be.

And we all know we need more intelligent SF films.

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