In a live Facebook Q&A on Wednesday, February 8th, The Cloverfield Paradox producer J.J. Abrams answered some questions about the film, which was abruptly released to Netflix immediately after the 2018 Super Bowl, to near-universal negative critical response. The tone of the live panel was positive and upbeat, but the responses may have inadvertently revealed why Cloverfield Paradox feels so fractured. Among other things, Abrams says the film was already shooting when he and the filmmakers figured out how to make it into a Cloverfield movie.
“Originally, it was written by Oren Uziel, who wrote a draft that was its own thing, and was around for a while,” Abrams said. When his production company, Bad Robot, acquired the script, “we started to think, ‘What are ways that this might fit into the world?’ But when we started shooting the movie, it was still something we were thinking about. Because the idea for the Cloverfield series was not so much that it be this narrative throughline, but more that they be these really fun sort of thrill rides. Like, if you imagine an amusement park, that’s a Cloverfield amusement park, and every ride has a different purpose, but they all connect in some way or another.”
“While we were shooting, we were making adjustments,” Abrams said. “This was a movie that went through many different iterations as it went along.” He added that the film’s Earth scenes were only built out after test viewers insisted on knowing what was happening on the planet during the story, which otherwise takes place on a space station.
In the Q&A, Abrams joined director Julius Onah and Cloverfield Paradox stars David Oyelowo and Roger Davies to answer questions about the movie. Reports say Netflix paid more than $50 million to acquire the film from Paramount, which was planning an April 20th theatrical release, but got cold feet over the film’s prospects for profitability. Abrams skirted that arrangement in the Q&A, saying only that Paramount sold the film to Netflix because releasing it online without buildup seemed “fun.”
The release even came as a surprise to the stars. Davies said he “got a call the day of the Super Bowl, and JJ was like, ‘Yo, it’s about to go down.’”
“I was in bed,” Oyelowo said. “I was in Minnesota for the Super Bowl, and we knew that this conference call was meant to be happening. We found out the title on that phone call, we found out there were going to be two Super Bowl trailers on that phone call, and the fact that it was going to be on that night. So those are all things that normally take place over six months, maybe a year, before a film of this nature comes out. So there was definitely something exciting about it, but also — we were all kind of on the call going ‘Yay!’ and then going ‘What? I don’t understand what just happened.’”
“There was a lot of lying,” Onah said. “A lot of keeping secrets from even our own friends and family.”
The Q&A was billed on Facebook as a chance for Abrams and Onah to answer fan questions, which were solicited in advance on the film’s Facebook page. But even fan response to the film has been highly mixed, and viewers on Facebook were largely vocal about their disappointment with it. In yet another example of the ways in which brands’ attempts to use social media to promote themselves can backfire, viewers mostly inundated the question-solicitation page with insults, and with queries like “Why do you keep buying original stories and poorly tacking on the Cloverfield connections and name?” “Why was it so boring?” and “How soon after seeing Life did you think, ‘Oh balls! What do we do now?’”
In the end, moderator Chris Hewitt asked most of the questions, and the filmmakers only addressed a couple of queries submitted via Facebook. One prominent fan theory notes that when Cloverfield and Cloverfield Paradox are run simultaneously, the monster’s first roar in Cloverfield matches up with an explosion in Paradox. A fan asked whether that connection was deliberate.
“No,” Abrams said, laughing. “It’s a bizarre coincidence.”
Another fan asked whether there will ever be a Cloverfield movie tying together the survivors from the franchise’s existing films. “We’ve talked about versions of things,” Abrams said. He considers 10 Cloverfield Lane “a weird origin story of this incredibly awesome heroine,” which has prompted people behind the scenes to discuss whether her character should return to meet the survivors of Cloverfield Paradox. But he tactfully suggested that isn’t going to happen. “The bigger ideas that we’ve had about where this thing goes haven’t necessarily been those ideas. But they’ve kind of been fun theoretical offshoots.”
Abrams declined to answer a question about where the Cloverfield series might go from here. “We’re talking about a lot of different things,” he said. “Obviously, when the time is right, I can’t wait to talk about it. But not here, not now.”