Matt Reeves’s 2008 film Cloverfield had an uncanny plot resemblance to Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptation The Mist which had released just a year before in 2007. The US Department of Defense conducts Project Manhattan like clandestine Science experiments that go horribly wrong, ripping open the gateway to another dimension, and not a benevolent dimension at that. Before they realize what had happened, hellish creatures pour out into our world through the cracks in space-time. Even though the basic premise was similar, Reeves’s ingenuity in execution elevated the film to an unprecedented scale. Filmed entirely in the found-footage format, Cloverfield told the story of Manhattan’s invasion through the eyes of a group of friends who get stranded in the middle of a battle between the creatures and the army. 8 years later, Dan Trachtenberg’s sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane happens during the first few days that lead up to the Manhattan event, where a young woman finds herself trapped in the basement of an older man, after an accident. With a harrowing screenplay by a team including Damien Chazelle, director La La Land, the film starts like a crime drama where the older man is perceived to be a psychopath who had kept the victim as his captive, until it is revealed that he had been trying to stop her from returning to the surface to save her from what was out there, subverting our perception about everything.
Interestingly, both the Cloverfield stories have had somewhat of an Indie personality with their tight stories with limited visual elements and CGI. In both movies, the atmosphere is established through the characters who experience the event rather than through the event itself. We barely get to actually see any monsters. And yet, the tight screenplay keeps you at the edge of your seats. Not surprisingly, both films have earned amazing ROI. While the first film earned $170 million from a budget of $15 million, the sequel earned $110 million from its $25 million budget.
The Cloverfield Paradox is sort of a prequel to both the films that came before it. Although the timeline feels as if the events are based in a parallel universe, the story provides an origin to the point when all hell broke loose. The year is 2028 and Earth is facing an imminent energy crisis which is threatening to throw it back into the Stone Age. A group of scientists have been tasked with the mission to install a particle accelerator into Earth’s orbit which may solve its energy problem forever. However, its not as easy as it sounds as for the accelerator to generate clean energy, it needs to achieve a stable equilibrium. After several trials, the team is out of ideas and time. With just enough material to run one last trial, they precisely configure the machine hoping that they get a stable beam against all odds. Seeing that the beam was now stable for much longer than it had ever been, they are almost about to celebrate when everything shuts down abruptly. They had failed yet again. However, something had changed. Not only have they lost the beam but now they have also lost all communication with earth. While wracking his brains trying to re-establish comms, the Radio engineer quips that the signal is unable to connect because it cannot find its destination – the earth. Baffled by that comment, the crew runs to the port windows to assure themselves with the beautiful view of the earth that they had so gotten used to. But now all they catch is an unobstructed view of the vast expanse of space with no earth in sight. Had they just incinerated 8 billion people ? As they try to figure out what had just happened, strange physical anomalies start occurring within the space station. The only way for them to survive is to find earth and go home.
Netflix has become the mecca for Indie films to get recognition without having to incur the costs of a worldwide big-screen release. Director Julius Onah’s first feature-length film on a budget of $45 million stars actors like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Daniel Brühl, and yet retains the Indie personality by keeping the premise majorly confined to the crew on the space station. The only connection to earth is kept through Gugu’s character Ava Hamilton who is coping with the loss of her children who she had lost in a tragic accident. She misses her husband who had encouraged her to go for the mission as it was for the noble purpose of saving the planet. We see glimpses of Ava’s husband as things start going south never really seeing an actual catastrophe. Despite the thrilling first half, the screenplay languishes with tonal inconsistencies. Ava’s tragic past gets a lot more screen time than I would have liked which cuts down on the back-stories of the other characters. Daniel Brühl is severely under-utilized as one of the resident physicists who is charged with sabotaging the Particle accelerator just because he was German (What was that about ?).
The idea of parallel dimensions colliding with each other is an intriguing premise and its effects on the crew members were some of the most interesting parts in the film. However, it would have been even more gripping if the crew would have tried to explain what was happening. They were, after all, a bunch of highly skilled and resourceful scientists, the best in their field. And yet, they act helpless, frustrated and delusional when faced with the anomalies. The Cloverfield Paradox tries to be a lot of things. It tries to establish the Cloverfield origin story, it tries to be a space movie and it also tries to be a drama, which is ironic as things never go right when ‘different’ dimensions collide, which results in it being the weakest film in the franchise.
The next film in the franchise Overlord is slated for an October release this year and would be directed by Julius Avery. Based around World War II, the story would feature two paratroopers who are caught behind enemy lines only to find that the enemy is not the only thing they need to fight. We have high hopes for this one.
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