Netflix and J.J. Abrams managed to pull off another impressive Cloverfield marketing stunt during the Super Bowl, not only releasing the first trailer, but announcing that the latest film in the loosely connected franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox, would be available for streaming the instant the game ended. It was a genuinely amazing feat in this era of advance knowledge about almost everything, including the basic contours of the film’s plot (and the fact it was originally called The God Particle).
Unfortunately, the movie itself wasn’t quite up to the task of actually being as entertaining as its sneak-attack release plan, as all those talented actors (seriously, what a cast) couldn’t compensate for the general incoherence of the story or the ham-fisted way it incorporated the Cloverfield mythos into its narrative. Our reviewer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky drew attention to the cut-and-paste method of assembly, saying the “periodic cuts back to Earth draw half-assed connections to the two earlier films” in a way that implied a late-in-the-game gambit to salvage things. Turns out, he was right on the money: According to a new Facebook live interview with Abrams, director Julius Onah, and stars David Oyelowo and Roger Davies, the making of the film was just as uneven as the finished product.
Of course, the creators and actors don’t cast it in quite such a negative light, but during the easygoing and light-hearted discussion, they end up unintentionally painting a pretty messy picture of how the new installment of the series got made. As he spoke, Abrams made it sound like no one really knew how to make all the pieces fit together properly:
Originally, it was written by Oren Uziel, who wrote a draft that was its own thing, and was around for a while...and [after Abrams’ company acquired it] we started to think, “What are ways that this might fit into the world?” But when we started shooting the movie, it was still something we were thinking about...While we were shooting, we were making adjustments. This was a movie that went through many different iterations as it went along.
One of the most obvious additions—those “half-assed connections” scenes on earth where Davies’ worried husband character is running around—weren’t added until viewers at test screenings said they wanted to know what was happening on earth while the plot of the movie unfolded on the space station. To be fair, these movies aren’t exactly supposed to have clear connections beyond taking place in the same time when monsters suddenly appear on earth. (Abrams, again: “The idea for the Cloverfield series was not so much that it be this narrative through line, but more that they be these really fun sort of thrill rides. Like, if you imagine an amusement park, that’s a Cloverfield amusement park, and every ride has a different purpose, but they all connect in some way or another.”) But even within those loose parameters, this film is a rather clumsy integration of said mythos.
Despite the jovial atmosphere during the Q&A, the Facebook page where fans were encouraged to send in questions predictably turned into a mass dunking on the film. The Verge compiled some of the better burns (which the panel moderator stayed far away from asking), including, “Why do you keep buying original stories and poorly tacking on the Cloverfield connections and name?” and our personal favorite, “How soon after seeing Life did you think, ‘Oh balls! What do we do now?’”
There was little discussion of the frantic decision by Paramount to sell off the film to Netflix because it was “ultimately deemed unsalvageable” and would bomb at the box office, resulting in Netflix paying $50 million to acquire it. Instead, Abrams sidestepped the business issues and simply said everyone involved thought it would be “fun” to do the surprise streaming release. Which, true, it’s a lot more fun to have numbers kept under wraps by Netflix than face a presumably shitty box-office reception.
Still, the other people on stage had some fun explanations of how the discovery of the Netflix sale and surprise unveiling went down. David Oyelowo said of his experience, “I was in Minnesota for the Super Bowl, and we knew that this conference call was meant to be happening. We found out the title on that phone call, we found out there were going to be two Super Bowl trailers on that phone call, and the fact that it was going to be on that night. So those are all things that normally take place over six months, maybe a year, before a film of this nature comes out. So there was definitely something exciting about it, but also—we were all kind of on the call going ‘Yay!’ and then going ‘What? I don’t understand what just happened.’” (“There was a lot of lying, a lot of keeping secrets from even our own friends and family,” Julius Onah added.)
Here’s hoping the next time a Cloverfield movie comes along, it will be a smoother process. Hey, here’s an idea: Rather than retrofitting a pre-existing story, why not hire a writer to pen a script already set in the Cloverfield universe? This is the kind of outside-the-mystery-box thinking that really pays off, we hear.