• DAVID STEPHENS

CLOVERFIELD OF DREAMS


What does “The Paradox” mean for the future of the franchise?

We loved “Cloverfield”. We adored “10 Cloverfield Lane”. We were… actually disappointed and underwhelmed by “The Cloverfield Paradox”. But let’s push aside the majority of critical reactions, and the whole politics behind the surprise Netflix-exclusive deal, which finally brought “Paradox” to screens around the world. As much as this writer felt somewhat let-down by the latest chapter in this unlikely franchise, I just wanted to share a few thoughts behind the possible repercussions of that movie’s plot and what it may mean for any future entries. We know that the upcoming WW2 horror “Overlord” is reportedly the next “Cloverfield” film, and that there are rumours that a new Daisy Ridley film (“Kolma”) may be the fifth instalment. Equally there have also been rumours that creator J.J. Abrams may be having second thoughts on further films, following some of the reactions to “Paradox”.

Nothing is certain, but whether you love it or hate it, “Paradox” contains the most important moment across all three films and a catalyst for everything that happens in the Cloververse. So let’s just examine that concept for a moment and how it could… just could… evolve into an exciting overall concept. Or just a convoluted reason to thinly link unrelated genre films together. There WILL be *spoilers* in the lines below, so read no further if you want to watch any of the Cloverfield movies fresh. This will NOT be an exhaustive examination of the manic timeline (there’s enough of those online already), just a personal look at what the future may or may not hold for the movies and the pros + cons therein.

Let’s start with “Cloverfield”, which at heart is just a good, fun, found-footage monster movie. The enigma and start of the muddled mythology that sprouted up around the franchise is initially purely due to the unexplained origin of “Clovie”, the city-trashing monster that makes mincemeat of New York. If the film had been a standalone story, the only clue given for its presence is the object that can be briefly seen crashing into the ocean, glimpsed behind the characters during a flashback to a Coney Island visit. However, if you look at all the viral marketing and material that Abrams had made available (before and after) the release of “Cloverfield”, it refers to a Japanese mining company called Tagruato. They also produce the popular soft drink “Slusho”, which has a special addictive ingredient called “Seabed's Nectar”. It seems to be suggested that the company’s activities retrieving this material from the floor of Atlantic Ocean, is the main reason for Clovie to rise from the depths and take a bite out of the Big Apple. The inference is that the creature is either an extraterrestrial or mutated creature prodded into a bad mood by humanity. So far so good, but it’s all conjecture.

Onto “10 Cloverfield Lane”, which most people are now aware started life as non-related script called “The Cellar”. It was sprung on an unsuspecting public eight years after the original “Cloverfield” and went on to garner a great deal of critical acclaim. Ostensibly it’s the tale of a woman discovering her strength and identity as a kickass survivor, whilst dealing with a manipulative antagonist and an uncertain situation. But it does nothing to explain the events of the previous film, and the only clear link is a blink-and-miss reference to the Tagruato Company, for which Howard Stambler (John Goodman) once apparently worked for. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) does fight “aliens” at the climax and Earth is revealed to be under some kind of invasion. But there is no direct link to (or appearance from) Clovie. Was it part of an invasion vanguard or linked to the aliens? If that’s the case, why is the original monster never referred to? Some people have theorised that the New York incident was “covered up” somehow by the military, but it seems unlikely. Despite the success, people still looked to another Cloverfield film to explain things further.

And so to “The Cloverfield Paradox”. As stated, we won’t go into its tortuous journey to the (small) screen, but it also started as a standalone script eventually incorporated into the franchise. Taking place on Earth in 2028, again there is no mention of previous Cloverfield events. Scientists in an orbiting space station fire up an experimental particle accelerator to solve the planet’s energy crisis. But Earth subsequently disappears and they discover that reality warping affects are taking place. Basically they have opened a gateway between different dimensions and timelines, which explains the sudden presence of the mysterious Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), and Ava Hamilton’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) children being alive on an alternate Earth. It also explains why bigger duplicates of Clovie have apparently appeared on Ava’s home world once she returns to it, and are decimating the planet. Subtle links to previous films are littered throughout the plot; another character called Stambler, a more mature Clovie, Slusho, etc. But whatever your opinion of the film and climax, it’s clear that this is the lynchpin event for the previous films and any further entries.

Despite previous exhaustive attempts by people to produce a cohesive timeline and explanations to link the first two films, the “Paradox” provides an easy (and slightly lazy it has to be said) solution to everything that has (or will) happen, with two broad strokes. By introducing the concept of the multiverse to the franchise, none of these events have to happen on our version of Earth. It’s highly likely that the events of “Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” happened in different dimensions/timelines, which would explain why none of the films directly reference each other. Outrageous events can occur without fear of affecting our own established history or those seen in previous films. The other important detail is that it also explains the reasoning for monsters and/or aliens to suddenly lay waste to humanity at any point or time. Whilst the fan-pleasing appearance of the massive adult Clovie might seem eye-rolling to many, it subtly lays the groundwork for the future. In essence, Cloverfield is now a “Twilight Zone” umbrella for genre movies. Any further films in the franchise (and there ARE question marks on that front) can now securely be standalone stories without the need to explain themselves. If monsters do appear in “Overlord”, that’s due to the particle accelerator from the “Paradox” universe. If “Kolma” is a Cloverfield movie and Daisy Ridley meets a doppelganger or alien, that’s the pesky accelerator again.

In a way it’s sort of genius and Abrams recently confirmed that this was his intention all along, to provide an anthology franchise for genre movies. One particular downside is that due to the previous secrecy surrounding the films, fans are immediately suspicious of any upcoming projects without a clear backstory. There are plenty of people online that are convinced the imminent “A Quiet Place” is also a Cloverfield film. Any future entries in the franchise also need to be careful how they acknowledge their place in the Cloververse. As cool as the Clovie cameo was at the end of the “Paradox”, it still felt a bit cheap and an easy bolt-on sequence. (NB: Maybe a lingering look beneath the clouds at the possible rampage would have solved that). There still remains a lot of negativity around “Paradox” as well. For every person that enjoyed the ride, there is someone that disliked it and complained about the narrative and characterisations. Non-Netflix owners are also left out in the cold, and although Abrams has stated that future releases will be theatrical, there is a major dent in popularity at the moment. But what needs to be done to get the majority back on board with the franchise?

For future entries they really need to look at “10 Cloverfield Lane” as the benchmark to build from. Sure the Cloverfield effect is there, with the ambiguous global onslaught and Michelle’s climatic confrontation, but those are almost background details which serve to enhance the plot rather than dominate it. The main beats in the story come from the ambiguous friend/foe threat that Stambler holds over his fellow shelter-mates, and the way in which Michelle grows as a character. The more fantastical elements just help to underline the thrust of the narrative. In a way even the original “Cloverfield” pulls the same trick. The film is primarily a POV disaster film with some likeable characters, which tellingly keeps the monster off-screen for 95% of the time. With some twists in the plot, it could just as easily have been a found-footage version of “Earthquake” or “San Andreas”… although it wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable as a result. In comparison (although it’s mostly due to the promotion), “Paradox” mostly felt like a convoluted origin story that didn’t compel as a separate film

But the lesson is clear. For future films to pull in the punters, the stories have to stand on their own with relatable characters. It’s okay to continue to have Slusho, Tagruato, Stambler, and Clovie cameos, but it has to be a tight story that drives itself. It’s alright to have creatures appear due to interdimensional interference from the particle accelerator, but let’s have them serve a purpose. “Overlord” (and we still don’t definitively know this IS Cloverfield 4 or not) is due to hit screens near Halloween this year, and looks promising on paper. The story of two American soldiers behind enemy lines on D Day, they apparently encounter something “supernatural” that must be stopped. If it is “Paradox” related it could be a neat addition to the franchise, but we’ll have to wait and see for certain.

Personally we’re hoping that the franchise does continue, but that it uses the now established mythology to provide ingenuous horror/sci-fi tales. They don’t have to tie themselves in knots, but an ongoing genre “anthology” series is something that we’d love to see run for years, and could attract rising (or established) actors and filmmakers up for the challenge. In short we want to see more “Lanes” and less “Paradoxes”, but we definitely want to see more “Cloverfields”. Let us know what you think in the YGROY forum… and keep watching the skies.

#cloverfield

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