People keep saying the old ways of television are not long for this world. Everyone’s going to “cut the cord” and broadcasting will be supplanted by “streaming.” I don’t know if any of that is true but I do know that any changes coming will probably not turn out much like anyone is predicting. But just in case, let’s take a look at one of the supposed major players in the soon-to-arrive “post-New Golden Age of TV.”
Netflix started out sending you DVDs of movies made by other people. Then it turned into an internet service that let you watch movies made by other people on your computer, phone, or television. Now, as more and more producers are holding onto content for their own Netflix-type service, the original is making scores of its own original programming. But is this the start of a future any of us can look forward to? That’s what this edition of KIMT’s Weekend Throwdown will try to determine as we pit two super-hyped 2018 Netflix productions against each other. It’s “The Cloverfield Paradox” vs. “Bird Box.” Let the least worst one win.
"For pity's sake...THAT'S NOT WHY SPACE STATIONS SPIN!"
“The Cloverfield Paradox” is the third entry into a non-trilogy and the latest testament to the ego of 21st century uber-producer J.J. Abrams. “Cloverfield” (2008) was a cross between “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and a Godzilla flick. As an idea for a movie, that’s brilliant. As an actual film, it managed to be both entirely pedestrian and quite nausea-inducing. It opened big at the box office and then ticket sales fell like a penny off the Empire State Building and the film largely vanished from public consciousness because…you know…it really wasn’t any good.
That’s never stopped J.J. Abrams, so he next slapped the Cloverfield name on a pretty decent little thriller that had not one blessed thing to do with the first film. “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016) had lower first weekend ticket sales because…you know…the first one wasn’t really any good, but had much better “legs” as they say in Hollywood and generated enough genuine interest that Abrams could continue pretending he was engaged in something besides a vacuous branding exercise.
"Should my character be even slightly concerned about having an arm sliced of? Nah!"
It wasn’t enough interest that any real studio was willing to finance Abrams’ wankery, so he sidled up next to Netflix and the result is “The Cloverfield Paradox.” It’s the story of an experiment in outer space that theoretically explains the non-connection between the first two Cloverfield flicks. What it actually does it make the strongest argument for eugenics in 100 years because none of the people involved in making it should ever be allowed to breed and further contaminate the gene pool.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” is, frankly, the stupidest motion picture I have ever watched and that’s saying something. It makes the flicks they mock on Mystery Science Theater 3000 look like cinematic masterpieces. To start with, it’s premised on a future where Earth’s “energy resources” are running out. Really? How do you “run out” of wind power? Solar? Hydroelectric? Geothermal? It may seem like nitpicking something that should be covered by suspension of disbelief but it’s so easy to come up with some logically plausible crisis that the failure to even try and do so speaks to the abysmally high level of stupidity at work here.
"Don't look at me. I didn't write it."
The solution proposed for the depletion of Earth’s energy supplies is some mumbo jumbo particle accelerator that is so dangerous is must be tested on this ginormous space station. And then “The Cloverfield Pardox” somehow becomes even dumber. Anyone with more than three active brain cells will come to a depressing realization after watching this film for only a few minutes:
“The people who made this movie don’t understand what centrifugal force is or how it works.”
Anyway, an intrepid crew of scientists and one utterly useless communications officer conduct their experiment and it sends them into an alternate dimension while causing a surprisingly small number of strange occurrences on the station, including the appearance of an unknown woman who is presented to the audience in such a cold and alienated fashion that she might as well have been named “Ima Gonnabetrayyouattheend.”
When you're an actor stuck in a crappy movie, sometimes meditation is the only option.
None of the weird stuff amounts to anything other than finding the MacGuffin of the first half of the film. Then because…you know…”The Cloverfield Paradox” stinks on ice, they pull a completely different and equally idiotic MacGuffin out of their butt to kill time in the second half of the film. How idiotic? It implies the designers of the space station were such imbeciles they made sure the only way to prevent a certain kind of disaster on the station would require one of the crew to commit suicide.
Anyway, after the utterly useless communications officer spends the film moping about and contributing nothing of value, she suddenly becomes the one who takes charge and has to save the day. Add in the film never exactly deciding whether every member of the crew can speak Chinese or not, a character responding to the amputation of a limb as if he merely popped a pimple, and time-killing cutbacks to the useless communication officer’s almost as useless husband back on Earth and we’ve still only scratched the surface of how silly and nonsensical is “The Cloverfield Paradox.”
The appropriate response upon seeing "The Cloverfield Paradox."
In order to lose this Throwdown, watching “Bird Box” would have to give you a rash on your ass. It does not. It is a pretty good approximation of what a post-apocalyptic film would look like if it were made by the people who do those endless Christmas romance movies on the Hallmark Channel.
“Bird Box” concerns a woman named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and the emergence of spectral monsters who cause anyone who sees them to commit suicide. The film bops back and forth between pregnant Malorie falling in with a group of survivors when the apocalypse starts and five years later when Malorie tries to take two kids down a river to a hoped-for sanctuary. I’m not a big fan of flashbacks in films because they’re usually a crutch to disguise how boring a story would be if it were linear and that’s somewhat true of “Bird Box,” but screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Susanne Bier do such an excellent job of handling their time jumps and the plot points therein that I didn’t mind.
"Did I leave the stove on?"
Aside from the electricity and the global satellite system staying operational a ridiculously long time during the end of the world, “Bird Box” is fairly smart about the whys and hows of its apocalypse. Of course, a paranoid schizophrenic mumbling under a bridge would look like a Rhodes Scholar compared to “The Cloverfield Paradox,” so I may be giving the movie a little too much credit. Director Bier wrings remarkably little tension out of people having to wear blindfolds whenever they leave their shelter and after firmly establishing how the suicide-causing monsters work, the movie suddenly has them affect people differently in order to generate more excitement at the end.
All in all, though, “Bird Box” hits all the highlights of post-apocalyptic drama, including how acting like an a-hole may be the best way to stay alive. It never gets more than an inch below the surface of any of it, however, and the movie never truly justifies Malorie’s emotional breakthrough at its climax. The cast does a great job of elevating every scene, particularly and unsurprisingly Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich most of all. And perhaps most importantly, “Bird Box” should forever end any arguments over “The Happening” (2008). It wasn’t the concept of the movie that bit the big one. It was how M. Night Shyamalan handled it.
“Bird Box” is worth watching if you already have Netflix but you’re not missing anything if you’re not. It absolutely isn’t good enough to inspire any Darwinian YouTube challenges. It was made by people with the intellectual horsepower to at least dress and feed themselves, which puts it a country mile ahead of “The Cloverfield Paradox.” If our future television choices are going to be between slightly-better-than-meh and so-stupid-I-want-to-remove-my-eyes-with-an-ice-cream-scoop, I hope that future takes a long time getting here.
Movie windshields are always the cleanest windshields.
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Written by Oren Uziel.
Directed by Julius Onah.
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, and Clover Nee.
Bird Box (2018)
Written by Eric Heisserer.
Directed by Susanne Bier.
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, Machine Gun Kelly, BD Wong, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Vivien Lyra Blair, Julian Edwards, and Parminder Nagra.
NOT the Bird Box Challenge.