The Cloverfield Paradox; or The Medium Is The Message

This last Sunday Netflix released The Cloverfield Paradox, the latest in the Cloverfield franchise, after that night's Superbowl with almost no warning at all, save for an ad during the game.

Before that point, Netflix hadn't even confirmed the rumours that it had bought the rights to The Cloverfield Paradox (previously The God Particle before being crowbarred into the franchise), and a surprise release was in keeping with the franchise's past. The original Cloverfield, released in 2008, was preceded by title-less teasers and a vast alternate reality game, and stood as the franchise's sole entry for the next eight years, despite speculation on a potential sequel. Then came 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film that wasn't even a Cloverfield film two months before release and whose trailer gave almost nothing but the core premise away. The surprise release of The Cloverfield Paradox was the logical conclusion to this trend.

More distinctive than just the speed of release, though, is how these different marketing strategies have positioned the films differently, and how they have shaped the reactions to the films. Cloverfield's ARG set up the film as the answer to a mystery, the missing link between the disparate threads weaved online through fake corporate sites and MySpace profiles. In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the story of the film's production was the mystery to be solved: where did this come from? Why had no one heard of it? And how does three people being stuck in a bunker relate to the first film?

It's never just the film itself that shapes how we see it and how much we enjoy it. Marshall McLuhan once famously stated that "the medium is the message"[1] - that is, the content and the way the content is delivered cannot be divorced from each other; how you take in information depends on the format. I find myself far more receptive to films I see in the cinema, instead of on my laptop at home[2], even those that I wasn't necessarily particularly keen on seeing to begin with. There's a lot to be said for being in a dark room, with a large screen and a lack of other stimuli. A film you know has been in the cinemas seems more "real" than a film debuting on Netflix, largely because Netflix has never shaken its roots as effectively a Blockbuster competitor. It risks being seen as a dumping ground for films that couldn't get a proper theatrical release. It doesn't matter that it's making films like Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, there's always that cloud lingering over it.

So what of The Cloverfield Paradox's marketing? What does that say about the end product and how we look at it? Well, The Cloverfield Paradox is simply not a good film. The exposition is clunky, the technobabble inane, and the cast (comprising actors who are generally pretty good) don't know what to do with the material they're given. A bad film, when given this rollout, starts to look like a straight-to-DVD pic, dumped straight into the bargain bin. I reckon that with a longer rollout, with more time and distance and a more conventional release, The Cloverfield Paradox would have probably made up an extra half-star in its reviews. A conventional release couldn't save it, but it could cushion the blow. But the same release method applied to a better film, like 10 Cloverfield Lane, could have seen an equivalent bump in its rating. It's a double-edged sword, and one that Netflix should consider wielding much more carefully in the future if it wants to establish and maintain a reputation as a serious launchpad for blockbuster films.

  1. That's in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which I have, of course, not read. ↩︎

  2. That's as small a screen as I'll go when watching a film - never a mobile phone. Ever. ↩︎