'Cloverfield' and the Paradox of Sci-Fi Movies as Beyoncé Albums
Imagine there are no trailers! The most talked about science fiction event this month, just like its 2008 progenitor, was a total surprise. The Cloverfield Paradox has quickly become buzz-worthy, and that’s thanks to the fact that no one knew it was coming. Or did they? Could we live in a Cloverfield future someday, one where movie trailers are a thing of the past?
On Sunday, Netflix released a sci-fi thriller the general public basically didn’t know existed. The Cloverfield Paradox serves as a kind of in-between midquel that connects the found-footage original 2008 monster sci-fi movie with 2016’s smaller, more ruminative 10 Cloverfield Lane. But, the fact that nobody really knew it was going to happen is the real secret to its success, or failure, depending on who you ask. The question is, could this be a good model going forward for cool sci-fi movie franchises? In other words, is the long-build up promotional hype game a thing of the past?
Following the release of the film, Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay tweeted her support of the film, and noted that it was delivered “straight to the people.” And beyond the big win for representation, she’s got a point. The lack of advanced press, ads or a trailer is part of what made this feel fresh. Should sci-fi movies become more like Beyoncé albums?
When someone like Beyoncé drops a new album without warning, it works partially because people already know who Beyoncé is. As Engadget noted on Monday, “It helps that the Cloverfield franchise has a certain amount of clout among genre fans, as well as a history of surprising audiences.” Back in 2008, producer J.J. Abrams pushed for the trailer for the first Matt Reeves-directed film to not be shown with a title. So, the Cloverfield franchise is in a rare position to do this kind of drop, because they sort of invented this game in the first place.
Also, as many outlets have pointed out, the existence of The Cloverfield Paradox wasn’t a secret at all. It just used to be called something else: The God Particle Back in January of this year, The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that The God Particle was slated for a February release, with no trailer yet. “With a month away from opening and no trailer or hype for the mysterious project, the masses were wondering if it was just another sneaky Cloverfield-esque marketing tactic.” So in a sense, DuVernay is right. But, in another sense, it seems like Abrams and company wanted to release The God Particle conventionally, but after Paramount pulled it from its slate of releases, they pivoted to a full-drop on Netflix and changed the title.
Critically, The Cloverfield Paradox has been panned. Currently, it holds a 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but, tellingly has a 58 percent audience score. Just like Netflix’s orc-cop drama Bright, people are really into The Cloverfield Paradox, even if the establishment isn’t.
Which, is arguably one more good reason just put the movie out there without spending money on promotion. Perhaps we’re in a new era of gonzo science fiction and fantasy, where Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox represent what people enjoy, but not what the experts claim to want. But do the surprise drops in movies represent a brave new age for genre films in general?
Right now the answer is not exactly, but it feels like we’re headed somewhere new. A sequel to Cloverfield was still something people knew about before it was dropped. The time and way it was dropped were innovative. The next step is somehow getting people to watch a movie that they don’t know is a sequel to something else and then spring it on them like a jack-in-the-box. This would be a world where Cowboys Versus Aliens was a secret prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien, or where those rumors about the sci-fi horror film Life being a secret Venom movie proved to be correct.
The advanced marketing of big sci-fi and fantasy movies certainly takes out some of the fun in consuming these films once they’re out. Perhaps, more movies and franchises will go Cloverfield in the future. After all, don’t the genres of sci-fi and fantasy deserves fanciful and new ways of distrubtion?
The Cloverfield Paradox is streaming now on Netflix.