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Netflix Made Waves Last Night, but It Risks a Bad Fate

Netflix doesn't want to end up as the 'modern-day equivalent of direct-to-VHS'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 5, 2018 2:12 PM CST

(Newser) – It was a trifecta of entertainment last night: First came the Super Bowl, and then the battle between the highly anticipated episode of This Is Us and the premiere of a movie that no one saw coming. At Forbes, Scott Mendelson sets the stage, writing that the only people who even knew there was a new Cloverfield movie (the third installment) and that it was launching on Netflix were those that followed the "inside baseball news" of Paramount studios and release dates. Then came Netflix's 30-second ad spot, a trailer for Cloverfield Paradox, which was released the minute the game ended. "But for this to be a game-changing moment in how big movies can be marketing and distributed, [it] would have to be a good movie," Mendelson writes. And he and a lot of other critics say that sadly, it's just not.

  • About that 30-second trailer: Indiewire critic David Erlich had this to say on Twitter about Netflix's move: It "makes no sense why they went with the coy 'coming very soon' thing instead of IT’S F---ING DROPPING TONIGHT GET READY A--HOLES." Netflix took the bait, replying, "IT'S F---ING DROPPING TONIGHT GET READY MY RESPECTED AND BELOVED FRIEND."
  • The premise: Earth is on the brink of war, with our energy sources set to be tapped out within five years. A potential way out takes us to space, where the crew tries to use an experimental particle accelerator that could create a new source of energy. But, as Benjamin Lee writes for the Guardian, "the process takes longer than expected and when it seems like they might have finally cracked it, all hell breaks loose onboard."

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  • One biting review: From Justin Chang at the LAT: "Narrative incompetence is one of the more venial sins of big-budget filmmaking, but there is something particularly ugly and cynical about the sloppiness of the Cloverfield Paradox, as if its status as a franchise stepping stone excused its blithe contempt for the audience's satisfaction."
  • Paramount dodged a bullet: The studio had originally been tapped to release the movie in theaters on Feb. 24, 2017, but the dates kept getting pushed and the story around it kept changing, observes Matthew Dessem at Slate, who writes that by last month, "people were beginning to get the impression that Paramount didn’t have a lot of faith in the movie," which is said to have cost $40 million to make. Then came the news Netflix was buying it instead. "While initial murmurs suggested the studio might have avoided a cinema run because the film might be a bit too complex for a mass audience," Lee sees "the truth [as] ultimately something far more obvious: The Cloverfield Paradox is an unholy mess."
  • But maybe Netflix dodged a bullet, temporarily, too: Netflix's strategy allowed it to sidestep the "traditional promotion-and-review system" and the bells and whistles (multiple trailers, the distribution of advance screenings) that go with it, writes Joanna Robinson for Vanity Fair. The option it went with "was the best option the streaming platform had," she writes, "because, for a few short hours, the disappointing Cloverfield Paradox was able to dodge negative word of mouth entirely."
  • But long term...: Mendelson observes that while "Netflix has a solid track record in terms of movies that the studio system wouldn’t touch (Mudbound, Okja, First They Killed My Father) or no longer try to make (The Incredible Jessica James, Whatever Happened to Monday?)" they haven't yet mastered the realm of Hollywood blockbusters. And he sees the potential for a "long-term problem" if Netflix keeps this up: It might end up with a rep for being the "modern-day equivalent of direct-to-VHS."
  • Not everyone hated it: At TechCrunch, Josh Constine calls the film, directed by Julius Onah and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who garners mostly praise) and David Oyelowo, a "passable one-off" and "solid sci-fi story" that "those looking to geek out on the science of global warming worst case scenarios will find ... tantalizing."
(Read more Netflix stories.)

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