One wonders how different the narrative would’ve been if “The Cloverfield Paradox” had actually been good. Netflix’s surprise Super Bowl release of the movie that Paramount kept delaying until eventually selling it off to the streaming giant was initially perceived as a marketing coup. Hours before it was announced, director Ava DuVernay teased the event and predicted it would change history:
#FilmTwitter is going to explode tonight. Something is coming that I can hardly believe. Lawd. History in the making.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 4, 2018
Woman of color-led, sci-fi thriller released worldwide day + date w/ big Netflix muscle for black director, his super producer + POC cast. No advance press, ads, trailer. Straight to the people. Gamechanger. Congrats to helmer #JuliusOnah + my dears JJ, Gugu, David. #Cloverfield pic.twitter.com/m186Hprhqz
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 5, 2018
Unfortunately, nothing could override one simple fact: “The Cloverfield Project” was a stinker. I was a bit kinder on the movie than most (the campy stuff is really fun), but generally speaking, the latest in J.J. Abrams‘ franchise was roundly thrashed by bleary eyed critics who stayed up after the big game to watch the movie. Rather than being seen as a threat to Hollywood’s usual business model, the Netflix release was seen as hype driven save for a movie that would’ve bombed in theatres, had Paramount gone ahead and released it. So, knowing all of this, it makes the staggering money that Netflix paid for the movie seem all the more ridiculous.
THR reveals that Netflix forked over $50 million for the streaming rights to the movie, with Paramount hanging onto the rights for a theatrical release in China, and home video. That’sa lot of money, for a movie that now ultimately serves as the worldwide lead in to Netflix’s sci-fi series “Altered Carbon” (which seems to start almost immediately after ‘Paradox’ ends at least with most people I’ve spoken to).
The writing was on the wall for the picture, which Paramount chairman-CEO Jim Gianopulos “ultimately deemed unsalvageable” even though an effort was made to tweak “character beats” and forge stronger ties to the rest of the ‘Cloverfield’ series. On some level, Netflix must’ve known they had a bad movie on their hands.
There’s no doubt that Netflix has plenty of money to throw around, and $50 million is vending machine money in the grand scheme. And the streaming giant has already noted that what their audience likes, and what critics approve, sometimes can have a big disconnect (see “Bright“). Nevertheless, had any other traditional studio paid that amount for a turkey, they’d be thoroughly shamed. Netflix may be disruptors, but it seems they’re not infallible to making familiar Hollywood mistakes.