The Internet blew apart last night when people at early showings of 13 Hours reported seeing a trailer for a totally unknown movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane. It didn't take long for the official trailer for the film to hit online, and at that point the hype train had been outfitted with special hype rocket thrusters and it was pulling out of the hype station on an express route to Planet Hype.
This is both an amazing thing and a recipe for disaster. On the one hand, it's incredible that a movie can release a trailer in this day and age and take fandom by genuine surprise. The ingredients for that to happen are pretty much unobtainable these days and it seems like the only person who still has a stash of them stored away is J.J. Abrams. So let's all appreciate how cool it felt to watch the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane and have that damn near alien sensation of wondering what in the hell is the deal with this movie.
On the other hand, it's important to come down from those clouds of speculation for a minute and get some actual perspective. If you don't, if you blissfully board that hype train to Planet Hype, the chances are good you're going to be incredibly disappointed when Dan Trachtenberg's film does not end up being a direct sequel to Cloverfield filled with building smashing and monster rampaging.
So here's how to balance your excitement for the movie with a healthy dose of reality, all while still blissfully engaging with J.J. Abrams mystery box.
Don't look too deeply for Cloverfield connections
Cloverfield was one of the earliest movies to use nooks and crannies of the Internet to market itself to fans who wanted to get involved. It had real websites for fake products and companies. The characters had MySpace pages. All of this fed into a loose "Alternate Reality Game" that openly invited people to engage with it, and because of that people are already foaming at the mouth to figure out what the game is here.
But, so far, there is no indication that there is a similar game for 10 Cloverfield Lane. And that's totally okay. There doesn't need to be a web of viral marketing content for you to search. Sometimes a VHS box for a movie called Cannibal Airlines is just a great visual gag and a killer piece of production art. You don't need to hunt down the artist's name and find some way to prove they were standing on the grassy knoll with J.J. Abrams.
Also, keep in mind that key creative talent from Cloverfield aren't attached to the movie. Director Matt Reeves isn't listed as even an executive producer. More importantly, screenwriter Drew Goddard doesn't have a story or character credit. If they were involved, if the Cloverfield sequel connections were that strong, there'd be no reason to hide them. Hell, Goddard received an Oscar nomination this week. If anything, you'd think they'd bend over backward to include him if it applied. And not only that, but currently the only credited producer it shares with Cloverfield is Abrams. These are important industry things to pay attention to if you're operating from the idea that this is a 100% direct sequel to Cloverfield's story and its characters. If it was, the credits would contractually look very different.
Heed the lack of a money shot
Cloverfield's trailer made a promise when it ripped the head off of the Statue of Liberty. That is a guarantee of spectacle that is going to be on camera, front and center-- even if whatever actually sent that massive piece of metal flying is off camera.
10 Cloverfield Lane has no such money shot. If anything, its big final moment is flat out denying the audience a money shot. It's an emphasis that what happens outside the bunker and the implications of it is all that matters. We, the audience, don't need to see it to believe something is/has gone down so long as the characters believe it.
But expect spectacle in measured doses
That said, you can still safely expect a certain amount of spectacle. The poster for the movie plugs that it will be shown in IMAX, and a producer as smart as J.J. Abrams is not going to enrage audiences by selling them an expensive ticket to a large format screen and then not show them something worthy of a large format. If you don't deliver some degree of spectacle, you're only inviting backlash.
But count on that spectacle being more meaningful than it is extravagant. In movies about characters trapped in a bunker, it is always, always, always the implication of the outside world that matters most. If you think the movie is going to spend 30 minutes in the bunker and then they're going to escape and spend an hour running around outside, dodging giant monsters in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, you're going to be let down. If that's what the movie was about, they would not hide it from you.
Be excited for originality
There's a strange thing going on where people love Cloverfield because it was an original science fiction movie that they knew next to nothing about going in. And yet those same people are desperate to assign meaning between this new movie and the last one. They want it to be handcuffed to the mythology of Cloverfield. They want to know more about that universe and that world and that monster. And that's cool. It's understandable to want to know more.
But don't let that preclude the option that maybe, just maybe, 10 Cloverfield Lane has next to nothing to actually do with Cloverfield, and that the name is just the way Bad Robot is going to brand original science fiction stories that they try to keep in the mystery box for as long as possible. If the reason Cloverfield was so exciting is because it was original, why not hope that this is also an original story with no franchise ties?
Trust the filmmakers, not the marketing
It's entirely possible Bad Robot is just using the Cloverfield title as a way of branding original sci-fi movies; a sort of disconnected anthology mindset like The Twilight Zone. After all, Abrams' official statement sent to press is simple enough:
"The idea came up a long time ago during production. We wanted to make it a blood relative of Cloverfield. The idea was developed over time. We wanted to hold back the title for as long as possible.”
Just follow the timeline. Back in 2014 Dan Trachtenberg was hired to direct a movie for Bad Robot (then called Valencia) about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up in a bomb shelter, held there supposedly for her own good by a man (John Goodman) who is protecting her from a world that collapsed when she was unconscious. By Abrams' own admission, during production someone involved with the movie came up with an idea of how to take that story and make it a "blood relative of Cloverfield." So there are two options here.
1) Abrams is being cheeky and super literal and the movie has a monster in it that is an actual blood relative of the monster in Cloverfield.
2) It's an original science fiction idea, just like Cloverfield was.
The latter option seems far more likely. It also frankly is far more exciting because it carries such an unknown factor with it. There aren't very many producers who can create buzz like Abrams' can and it would be a bit of a bummer if he only used it to trot out a straightforward Cloverfield 2. It's more interesting if he takes the same principals that made Cloverfield work -- a great writer delivering an original script for a first time feature director to make -- and applies them to something else.
Either way, just don't let the hype smother whatever 10 Cloverfield Lane actually ends up being. Even if I'm entirely wrong and it is totally a direct sequel, don't get swept up in manufacturing meaning where there is none. It's thrilling to try and figure out what's going on, to propose theories and puzzle over ideas, but just remember that it's called the mystery box. It is not infinite. There are walls and sides to it. There is a lid to it, there is a reality to its confines. If you pretend it isn't a box, if you pretend it has no limitations, inevitably your hype train is going to derail and it's not going to be fun for anyone.