The Movie (2/5)
I never saw Cloverfield. It just never piqued my interest at its time of release, and in the years since I’ve been busy tackling other genres and franchises to the point where I just plain forgot about it. Because of that, I was surprised to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film with a loose association to the 2008 found footage monster movie, materialize out of seemingly nowhere. That one I did see – you could put John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead on the poster for just about anything and release it in a slow March season and I’d see it, disinterest with Cloverfield be damned. I ultimately didn’t end up thinking much of the movie, but I was fascinated with how producer J.J. Abrams and his team basically retooled the film to shove some Cloverfield into it to kickstart a franchise.
This attempt at a franchise continues with Julius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox . A retooling of a science fiction movie originally titled God Particle, the film was re-announced in its current form last night during the Super Bowl, and released straight to Netflix’s streaming service immediately following the game.
The Cloverfield Paradox is the story of a team of scientists, who, in facing an energy crisis that threatens to plunge the nations of Earth into war, take to space in order to test an experimental particle that will hopefully solve their energy crisis. Under immense pressure, they repeatedly test the particle, plunging their space station into an alternate universe, and unleashing chaos on the remaining people on Earth. Facing a new series of trials and tribulations in the alternate universe, the scientists must work together to find a way to save themselves, return home, and save the planet from the chaos they’ve left behind.
Let me just start by saying that The Cloverfield Paradox is a REALLY easy movie to pick apart. It relies on so many cliches and different science fiction tropes that have been overdone to hell back, and feels so contrived and uneventful that in watching it I felt like I should truly hate it. Its edited in such a way that it feels rushed to the point of frustration, never settling on any one trope long enough to develop it in a meaningful way, and the way the Cloverfield franchise is inserted into the film feels so much more forced than it did in 10 Cloverfield Lane, to the point of immersion breaking.
But…….I kind of enjoyed it. Or at least parts of it. I think. Maybe.
The film sets the bar incredibly low almost immediately, rushing through establishing what’s going on in the world, what our team of scientists are doing, and why they’re doing it to the point where I didn’t really understand it till they’d already done the thing and zooped into a parallel universe. It naively assumes that we’ll just accept that the bad thing is happening, and that these scientists have some solution, and moves on. It then proceeds to do that with almost every single plot device it introduces, tearing through crew infighting, convoluted secret sabotage missions, massive scale equipment failures, crew deaths, and even some sort of spacewalk sequence at such a rapid fire pace that after a while things just happen and don’t really seem to mean much anymore.
And I think that’s what I enjoyed about it. It’s so confident in its poor execution that you almost have to admire it. It’s a jack of all trades, master of none ordeal mixed with the popular kid from your high school that acted out to distract everyone from the fact that there wasn’t much under the hood. The fact that someone looked at this cut of the film and thought, “eh, it’s ready to go,” is so hilarious, especially when you realize that Paramount decided that the best place for such a film was at Netflix. If anything, it speaks volumes about what Netflix thinks of its audiences, having paid to serve them up such a handsome turd on a Super Bowl Ad budgeted silver platter.
Horrible construction, writing, and overall existence aside, The Cloverfield Paradox has some excellent production values to back its newspaper thin story up, and a couple of noteworthy performances that speak to much greater potential, if the circumstances are right. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a convincing performance as the emotional core of the film, and the crew of scientists she works with, played by actors such as David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, and Chris O’Dowd could be transplanted into one of the earlier Alien movie scripts to much success. Special effects are decent, and the cold, sharp, and generally unfeeling cinematography goes to great lengths to give the movie an isolated and detached style, as any good trapped in space movie should possess.
Honestly, The Cloverfield Paradox is the kind of movie that, in 1996, would have been released direct to video, and soon after forgotten except in the dark corners of the forgotten forums and facebook groups of the internet. It’s incredibly uneven, paced way too fast at the expense of any credibility and storytelling logic, and serves only as a means to remind us that J.J. Abrams REALLY wants the Cloverfield franchise to be a thing. As it stands, I have a feeling that most of the discussion surrounding the film in the future will be about Netflix and Paramount’s brilliantly executed strategy to explode the movie into our laps following an intensely watched Super Bowl, while the movie itself will be buried by the rest of the 2018 Netflix Originals catalog.
The Video (3/5)
The Cloverfield Paradox was shot by cinematographer Dan Mindel on 4-perf 35mm film negative using Panavision anamorphic lenses to create an image with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film was then scanned and finished at what I can only imagine to be 4K resolution, keeping in line with the strict standards Netflix requires for its Originals, and encoded for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision viewing on Netflix’s streaming service.
Viewed in 2160p resolution with standard HDR10 encoding, The Cloverfield Paradox makes for a cold, mildly sharp viewing experience when streamed off of Netflix. Due to the nature of the compression and low bit rates used to deliver 4K content off of Netflix, much of the film’s natural texture is lost, especially during the film’s darker interior sequences. Detail never really exceeds being just okay, with close-ups revealing less than average amounts of information when compared to even the 2K upscaled images frequently presented on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format. The film’s presentation, in contrast to its less than amazing detail, often has excellent blacks, and deep, rich blues, greens, and oranges, and overall contrast thanks to its HDR10 encoding. Overall, Netflix’s presentation of The Cloverfield Paradox made for an average 4K viewing experience.
Note that The Cloverfield Paradox is available in Dolby Vision encoding, but because this was viewed off of an Xbox One S, that feature was not taken advantage of for this review.
The Cloverfield Paradox features both a standard 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus audio soundtrack, as well as a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. For review purposes, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack was used, but was down mixed into a 5.1 standard configuration.
In keeping with the decent production values that this movie brings to the table, The Cloverfield Paradox has a more than adequate surround sound presentation. Surrounds are used effectively to convey direction and space aboard the Cloverfield station, and subwoofer activity is low and satisfying. Dialogue is centered, but clear and easy to understand, and the film’s music is blended adequately into the mix. Let’s be honest, most of us are streaming this on a tablet, or through, dare I say it, TV SPEAKERS, so what’s on display here for us audiophiles is more than enough for a single viewing.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs):
The Cloverfield Paradox is big budgeted bargain bin science fiction. In juggling a ton of its balls of cliches and tropes, it doesn’t just drop them, it throws them into the stratosphere and lets them float off into space. It isn’t unwatchable however, due to its sheer confidence in its mediocrity, and some decent production values and acting. Streaming in 4K with HDR10 on Netflix makes for a decent experience for an otherwise unimpressive film, and those who wish to take advantage of their surround sound equipment will find a track that is more than adequate for viewing. It’s worth a watch, but only if you’ve watched and exhausted every single other science fiction option possible on Netflix, and that includes ALL OF STAR TREK.