Well, movies finally has its Lemonade. Kinda.
If you'll recall, Beyonce's sixth solo album dropped, unannounced, on April 16, 2016 — a complete work by a major artist written and recorded in secret, delivered to a world that didn't know it was coming.
I wondered, at the time, if it was possible for a filmmaker to do the same thing. Not an indie filmmaker, someone at the top of the heap, firmly ensconced on whatever passed for the A-list at the time. Make a movie that no one knew was being made and find a way to deliver it to the audience with no advance warning. And I figured that J.J. Abrams — who flirted with that paradigm with 2008's Cloverfield and has a notorious penchant for secrecy — would be the first one to get there.
The Cloverfield Paradox isn't entirely a secret, nor did it get a traditional theatrical release. It's been known by another name, God Particle, for at least two years now. It's been on and off of Paramount's slate, like a magnet that keeps losing its stick. Just last week, the news broke that Netflix was in talks to acquire the $45 million space station-set thriller — which stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O'Dowd, and Zhang Ziyi, among others — from Paramount. But no one had seen a trailer, or even a still, from the movie. Until Super Bowl Sunday, when Netflix chose to spend millions of dollars to inform the 110 million people who tuned in for the NFL final that they could watch the latest Cloverfield flick as soon as the game was over.
The whole thing was a brilliant maneuver that could only be pulled off with a moderately budgeted franchise. Ain't no one giving you a Star Wars movie you didn't know about, because those cost $200 million — and you can bet your training spheres Disney's gonna market the hell out of those. (It does make me wonder why they don't do this with the Purge movies, but that's another rant.)
I also think that, maybe, Paramount wasn't too happy with the way The Cloverfield Paradox had turned out: If they thought they could've made $300 million worldwide on it, they probably would've kept it and rebuffed Netflix's offer (which is said to have covered Paramount's spend).
And you know what? It's just okay. (I'm not saying that because — full disclosure — I have worked for Bad Robot before, on Castle Rock, and hope to again.) It's not great, nor is it overwhelmingly original, if you've ever seen a "bad stuff goes down on a space station" movie. Like Event Horizon, or Life, or The Black Hole, or Silent Running, or Passengers, or Gravity, or Solaris, or Europa Report, or Saturn 3, or Sunshine … you get my drift.
The Cloverfield Paradox is kind of about the crew of a space station called the Helios that's testing a particle accelerator that would provide a thirsty Earth with abundant, cheap energy. And because smashing the building blocks of the universe together at incredible speeds is dangerous as hell, they do it on an orbital platform. Naturally, something goes wrong and wonky crap starts happening. Did they cross into a parallel universe? Is the station suddenly alive and trying to kill them? Is one or more of the crew members possessed by an astro-demon?
The movie would've fared far better if it'd picked any one of those and stuck with it. Instead, it takes the sampler platter, which results in an inconstancy that piques interest but never comes close to satisfying — despite a delightfully multi-ethnic, high-powered cast who are doing their best with what they're given.
Still, regardless of what you think of The Cloverfield Paradox, the game has been changed. You don't really need buzz or pre-release awareness or junkets or advertising to release a movie. You just need the huevos to take your $45 million rock, drop it in the lake, and see how big the splash is.