There were two major surprises at the end of the 2018 Super Bowl. The first happened when Tom Brady and the Patriots lost to the eternal underdog, the Philadelphia Eagles. The second was when Netflix announced the release of the 2018 American science fiction horror film “The Cloverfield Paradox,” then released the film only a few hours later.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” follows a team of scientists traveling to outer space in order to solve the earth’s energy crisis, until (big surprise) everything goes horribly wrong. By unveiling the film during one of the largest cultural nights of the year, Netflix suggested ambitions that go beyond that of a standard streaming service: It wants to replace movie theaters in the modern age.
Netflix’s ambitions to replace movie theaters is marked not only by “The Cloverfield Paradox,” but also by the announcement of 80 Netflix original films in 2018. This ambition was likely inspired by the fact that traditional movie theaters are struggling, and services like Netflix seem like their natural replacement. “The Cloverfield Paradox,” a film in a successful mainstream franchise, should have been the perfect debut. The first “Cloverfield,” a found footage film that follows an alien attack in New York City, was a bona fide mainstream hit. Its sequel “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a contained thriller following a woman attempting to escape a bunker during an unknown disaster, was a critically acclaimed success. By having a film in one of traditional movie theaters’ most successful franchises, Netflix took the first step into a new territory.
There’s just one problem: “The Cloverfield Paradox” lacks quality, stemming from the film’s complete lack of a consistent tone. It becomes comedic at all the wrong times, thus obliterating the sense of atmosphere necessary in a horror film. To be fair, some horror films do manage to strategically use humor as a means of amplifying the anticipated horror, but these films also have expertly crafted scripts. However, “The Cloverfield Paradox” does not. The film’s script is at best uninspired and at worse completely incoherent.
The film isn’t even bad in an interesting way. It is a messy, lazy, forgettable sci-fi that belongs in the “straight to DVD release” category rather than that of a Hollywood blockbuster. This conclusion becomes sadly obvious once you look at how “The Cloverfield Paradox” ended up on Netflix in the first place. The film was originally titled “God Particle” and had no connection to the Cloverfield franchise whatsoever. Soon after the announcement, Paramount Pictures dropped the film from its release schedule and Netflix picked up the scraps. Normally when a film is dropped from its distributor, it is a sign that the film is a mess and does not warrant a theatrical release. Thus, by marketing “The Cloverfield Paradox” as a major release during this year’s Super Bowl, Netflix disguised the disaster of a film production as a major cultural landmark.
However, quality is not what necessarily makes or breaks a major blockbuster (case in point: the “Transformers” series). “The Cloverfield Paradox” might have failed creatively, but with a large enough audience, it could still stand as Netflix’s weapon against traditional theaters for financial reasons. The problem is that we will never know how many people saw “The Cloverfield Paradox” because Netflix doesn’t release ratings for its original content. In other words, the only information the public has depends on what Netflix chooses to disclose. This creates a landscape where Netflix can say that it is the number one opponent of traditional Hollywood films regardless of whether the Netflix film was a legitimate financial success.
The lack of traditional financial barometers of success for Netflix original films is representative of Netflix’s unconventional treatment of profitability as a whole. Netflix is not a profitable company, and that does not matter. Instead, Netflix is focused on profiting off of cultural capital as a means of eventually becoming the universal home for media. In this way, “The Cloverfield Paradox” was a success for Netflix, because regardless of financial or critical success the film got people talking about Netflix. Ultimately, that’s all Netflix tends to care about.
Netflix movies like “The Cloverfield Paradox” are not going away. Let us just hope that Netflix’s next major release will still be a good movie — and not just a good conversation.