We are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas: welcome to the Cloververse. For those of you that hate the trend of studios mostly backing blockbusters, micro-budget movies, and the remake/adaption culture, rejoice for you have a new champion, J.J. Abrams. I know that almost everyone knows who J.J. is, now that he has brought back Star Trek and Star Wars, but the man has done almost nothing wrong over the last 16 years. He had a rough start to his career with most of his work performing poorly, both financially and with critics. Once the 2001 movie Joy Ride was released, almost every project he has been involved with is golden. Since then, you can count his failures in TV and film on less than one hand. With the Cloververse, they are creating an anthology series unlike any we have seen before. There have been anthologies throughout the history of TV and film, such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. What makes this one different is that, instead of telling multiple stories in one movie or episode, they are connecting multiple movies in subtle ways that, in J.J.’s words, ‘will lead to something great if given the time.’
“We do have a big, fun idea that hopefully will get a shot to realize,” Abrams said over the phone. “But in the meantime, I think the easiest way to consider this is that it is something of an anthology. But it's also something else that we're playing with. Fingers crossed that we get to execute.”
Here are a few ways how J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot and Paramount could be changing the face of the medium budgeted movie universe:
Fan intrigue and interaction
Abrams’ Bad Robot team has mastered the art of keeping secrets in Hollywood and causing suspense and excitement among its fans. It all started with the release of the first Cloverfield movie. It took months for them to release its true title. The initial publicity material only referenced 01-18-08, as the movie release date and depicted a devastated New York. With the mystery came online forums, discussions, and websites where the studio and producers gave out clues and back-stories so fans could interact and unravel the secrets of what happened to New York. That trend continued with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Websites that were not active for nearly eight years started updating and sending out messages to fans. There were new clues for them to unravel and even a tie-in product. In the film, you see people drinking Swamp Pop, which it turns out is a real product that you could order and drink while watching the movie. If the trend continues, sometime around the first of the year we should see the website back at it, giving fans a couple of months to figure out how God Particle ties into the Cloververse, something one of its stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, doesn’t even understand at this point.
More important than their secrecy and fan involvement are the people that they have chosen to lead their projects:
The Nurturing of young talent
If you look at the three directors that have worked on Cloverfield films to this point you will notice that, while they have different backgrounds and came to this point in unique paths, they are all talented newer directors and may go on to much greater things.
Since directing Cloverfield, Matt Reeves has gone on to direct Let Me In, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel War of the Planet of the Apes, which will be released in 2017. Before Cloverfield, his most successful directing outing was the 1994 David Schwimmer vehicle, The Pallbearer, which no one has considered a hit. He is the oldest director of the group by almost a decade. He was 42 when Cloverfield was released, but he was still inexperienced when given the chance to direct Bad Robot.
Dan Trachtenberg is a 35-year-old that was best known for the Portal: No Escape short before getting his hands on 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since Working on that project, he has directed an episode of Black Mirror for Netflix and is currently writing Crime of the Century for Universal, which will be a heist film with a Sci-fi twist that is being produced by the writer of Fast Five. So here’s hoping they can top the safe dragging scene from that movie.
Next up is Julius Onah, a 33-year-old man from Nigeria, who until now has directed about a dozen shorts and one feature film, The Girl is in Trouble, which was almost fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. He is currently set to direct the adaptation of Brilliance, which has had Will Smith and Jared Leto in talks to star. It is the story of a gifted detective on the trail of another powered individual that is also a terrorist, continuing down the Sci-fi genre path of the previous Cloververse directors.
All three of them are moving on to bigger and hopefully better projects for other studios, so they must have done something right to convince another studio that they are worth the risk before their Cloververse project even hits theaters. They have surrounded these directors with great scripts and talented casts, making their job a little less stressful.
Great cast on a budget
Cloverfield was the most expensive movie of the three produced so far, with a budget of 25 million dollars. I know you might think that is strange, because the lack of famous people and being a found footage film. However, you have to remember it was effects heavy, especially compared to all but the final minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and those costs have come down in the last decade. With a budget of 15 million, 10 Cloverfield Lane was able to do some good effects, but most of the money went into signing on its two main stars, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, giving a disturbing performance as Howard Stemper. The cast of God Particle is even more star-studded with David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Daniel Brühl, with only an estimated 10 million dollar budget. So far, they have done a great job of picking talented directors and well-written scripts that convince actors to take less than their normal paycheck to be part of something they believe in.
If Bad Robot continues down this path, it may become something great that other studios try to emulate, instead of trying to copy Marvel Studios. My biggest fear is that they will start to rush the process and stop putting out quality films, or raise the budgets to a level where profit is at a minimum, causing the Cloververse to collapse in on itself. So far, each of the projects have had multiple years to be realized and that may end with the recent comments of releasing one movie a year. Looking at IMDB to see what could be coming soon that would fit in this world, the obvious choice is the J.J. produced Half-Life movie. If you do not know what Half-Life is, then you need to listen to the Nerdpocalypse’s sister podcast Dense Pixels more often. The short explanation is that Half-Life is a video game where a portal opens at a secret research facility, allowing aliens into our world. The main character must fight to save us all. If that does not sound like a perfect companion to this series, then I don’t know what does. I am excited to see where things go and see how far they can take it, because after two movies, there is already more going on here than in the No Man Sky universe.