‘THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX’ PARADOX AND THE DEATH OF CINEMA
Updated: Feb 11, 2018
ARCTIC LION OPINION
The title I use for this article is purposefully hyperbolic as producer J.J. Abrams has a sense for theatrical shock tactics in the way that he has marketed the odd but refreshing Cloverfield franchise. The Cloverfield films have played with conventions and offered an anthology series that moves away from a retreading sequel structure devoid of imagination. J.J. has made another creative choice in the marketing strategy for the latest instalment: The Cloverfield Paradox. To have a trailer air at the Superbowl on Sunday night that promises to be available on Netflix immediately after the game is a moment seemingly to pioneer the future of cinema - instant access and convenient availability from the comforts of your own home. However, by being streamed directly to televisions and other devices, bypassing the anticipation, speculation, premiere and theatrical release, has J.J. thrown the baby out with the bath water? Has this film lost its mystique and the title of cinema? Does this render the idea of a film trailer redundant?
These thoughts are jumping to an extreme before the dust has settled and are purely speculative but already streaming services are affecting the way in which cinema is created and will continue to do so until the film industry becomes like the ship of Theseus.
Television, video games and film are beginning to merge. There is nothing wrong with sharing ideas and cross-pollination, but each format has differences, virtues and shortcomings. There needs to be diversity in format if there is to be diversity in creativity.
The synthetic distribution has partly been responsible for the precedence to film digitally. Streaming services cannot by any means be solely responsible for this, as it is an industry wide change. And there are many advantages to filming digitally; avoiding using film reels saves a tremendous cost and allows for more takes and experimental shots to be filmed. However, despite streaming services favouring this format, it does not suit every story. Stranger Things is a great series but it lacks the image characteristics of the '80s films it seeks to homage, and so feels more pale, synthetic and sterilised compared with E.T. and The Goonies. A film does not need to be in high definition to be good; quite the opposite, an image that has too much definition can be devoid of atmosphere or not fully capture a style of performance. The Hobbit trilogy looked like a computer generated soap opera. Cinema needs to remember the analogue and practical effects it started with, without needing a budget of one hundred million dollars. Endlessly buffering streamed digital films that jump in picture quality lack gravitas and texture. If an orchestra stopped mid way through a piece of music it would take the audience out of the moment. Good cinema needs to capture and keep attention moment by moment.
Films that have no theatrical release do not need to worry about the big screen format, which champions image driven narratives and the spectacle of cinema. Some films do not suit the big screen, others do not suit the small screen, but if distribution bypasses the cinemas and theatres, more films will be made with only the small screen format in mind. Christopher Nolan has spoken about this in relation to Dunkirk, which was not a film made to be watched on a phone.
What I have tried to illustrate is that new films which streaming services present have the same qualities and are hallmarks of the contemporary. Some stories suit this style and have a fast, documentarian realism but this tends not to work for stories, which require more atmosphere or suspension of disbelief. Contemporary streamed films may simply be the style of the 2010s which we can only fully understand with retrospect, as much as films of the 1970s had a brown, grainy quality, but for the first time in my life, I feel the contemporary is not necessarily better nor is it simply a different taste, like the comparison between apples and oranges. Film has always had a quality that appeared unobtainable and magical. It is great that in society today, films can be accessed, made and edited by anyone but it may lose its prestige if even the big budget studios churn out digital media that uses tricks which are all too obvious to the audience and feel like manufactured products rather than creative, artistic projects which are more than the sum of their parts. I would not want to restrict access to cinema but already the number of series and films available on streaming services would be impossible to watch in a lifetime. Having too much available can mean it is taken for granted. It belittles the quality of the diamonds in the rough. Of course, film cannot be stagnant, it has to move with the times and adapt format, distribution, narrative, character and style, to maintain relevance, but ease of access does not counterbalance a restriction to creativity and the diminishment of the art form.
I believe this restriction comes from streaming services providing an averaging effect; some of the films are good, some bad, most are mediocre. The consumer pays for a service rather than being given the ability to choose and curate a selection that suits their own tastes; the whole is considered more than the individual. I think this could stifle independent and diverse cinema, because some passion projects take more time and effort than a well marketed uninspired project that ticks the boxes the studio have projected to make a profit. There would be no point in spending time and money for specialists to restore and preserve films of the past, which need care and attention, and warrant being sold individually like a well considered book volume. In my opinion, it is not exciting or interesting to have a range of mediocre products at your fingertips compared with finding and investing in a smaller number of high quality, individual, interesting projects that do not have to conform to the cynical standards of entertainment and content providing. Cinema does not need to be a fast food that is available everywhere at all times of the day. If it is made an occasion, it is more memorable and satisfying. It would be a sad day if communal movie going where images are projected onto a big screen disappeared. Cinema would become more isolating, unaffecting and illusionary as a platform. I’m afraid J.J., that does not look like a good future for filmmaking. This is by no means an elitist comment either, as streaming service subscriptions are not inexpensive and can be underutilised, and in some cases, have forced cinema ticket prices upwards.
If super-studios have a monopoly on the creation of content and the control of distribution, then suddenly large companies will be able to control exactly what we can and cannot watch. Already, streaming services build information about watching habits and tastes and so can gain a lot of knowledge about consumer behaviour. This may be a dystopian projection of the future but we need diversity and counter-cultural movements in cinema to challenge this idea artistically and make sure such a society is not possible.
The newly released Cloverfield film has had mediocre to poor reviews, making it a non-event, which carries little weight in comparison to the premiere of a new and inventive film. It is about a group of scientists who are out of resources and are on a space mission attempting to find a new solution, but they may rip an irreversible hole in space-time and unleash monstrous beings on the Earth. The main criticism the film is receiving is that it has plucked ideas from other films, such as Alien or The Thing, and executed them poorly. I cannot help but feel the story and criticism are ironic. It was produced by a studio out of ideas, trying out a new solution by poorly throwing together parts of cinema from the past. It may work or it may rip the cinema of the future in half, creating monstrous films that are unleashed on the Earth to our despair.
Paddington 2 was pretty good though.
Hamish Muir 6th February 2018