(Unlike my 10 Cloverfield Lane review that posted earlier this week, this article WILL discuss spoiler and plot points. If you have not seen 10 Cloverfield Lane yet and have any interest in seeing it, I would recommend clicking away now.)
10 Cloverfield Lane had one of the best teaser trailers in recent memory. It told you all you needed to know about the film: it takes place in a bunker, there are rising tensions and occasional conflicts among the characters, and there is something dangerous outside. Then, there was the kicker: a title card with the word “CLOVERFIELD,” before fully revealing the title as “10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.”
It’s that last part that is causing trouble for part of the movie’s audience. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a B- on Cinemascore right now, which usually reflects how accurately marketed a movie is. Reddit is swarmed with people who are disappointed with the film and its marketing, and even on AV Club’s spoiler section, where comments are usually solid, several commenters are expressing their thankfulness for having a place where they could easily spoil the movie, confirm their suspicions, and avoid seeing it altogether.
So why are people upset? Because 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a sequel to Cloverfield. It doesn’t feature any of the same characters, it’s in a completely different location, and most importantly, there’s no giant monster stomping around and wreaking havoc. It’s still got multiple creatures in the form of invading space aliens, but because it doesn’t directly tie to the other movie, people feel duped. As I’ll get to in a bit, I feel like this is an overreaction and a failure on the part of the audience to simply go along with the movie they’re watching. But before I talk about why preconceived notions shouldn’t matter, let’s admit that JJ Abrams and Bad Robot did something a little bit shady here.
10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t start life as a franchise-extension, or a brand, or whatever the hell it is now. It was initially written as a small, low-budget script called “The Cellar.” The whole thing, aside from a few minutes at the end, was going to take place in the bunker, and the outside threat was never going to be defined. It was a completely independent story, and remained that way when JJ Abrams bought it and had it touched up by Damien Chazelle (writer and director of the excellent Whiplash).
After Damien Chazelle decided not to direct the film, Dan Trachtenberg was brought it. While there doesn’t appear to be any official confirmation online, from Trachtenberg’s Reddit AMA, it does not appear that the film had any connection to the Cloverfield name during production. The movie’s working title was “Valencia,” and the director was focused on making a stand-alone character piece about three people in a bunker.
So where did the Cloverfield name come in? Well, it’s speculation at this point, but here’s my best guess. JJ Abrams was impressed with how the movie was turning out in post production, and wanted to get it out to a bigger audience. He knew that Paramount Pictures was only going to put so much money into marketing, and as an unknown property, any material they released would have to give the audience a very clear and complete picture of what to expect from the film. JJ “Mystery Box” Abrams understood that such an approach would go against the intent of the movie, so he got creative.
All it took to make the “10 Cloverfield Lane” title relevant is a quick shot of a car running over a mailbox, something that was likely shot as a pick-up and inserted into the already-near-complete movie. And with that move alone, it ceased to be a stand-alone film and instead became a “franchise” picture, with all of the marketing advantages that that brings. Even with every subsequent piece of marketing insisting that “Monsters Come In Many Forms” and Abrams and Trachtenberg downplaying the film’s connection with Cloverfield in interviews, the decision still misled a number of moviegoers and made them bitter.
Frankly, though, I think the name change was ultimately a smart choice. Changing the title has no real impact on the film itself, and if a disingenuous title is all it took to get the movie a bigger push from the studio and a less-revealing ad campaign, it was well worth the effort. It’s a tactic that, if successful, could really help diversify the film industry: producers could “trick” studios into taking risks on original projects by selling them as franchise installments.
Plus, let’s be real here: why does anybody give a shit if the Cloverfield monster is in this movie?
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Cloverfield. Matt Reeves did a great job marrying the kaiju genre to the found footage genre and helped revive both in one fell swoop. But it’s not a movie that cries out for a sequel. Nor does 10 Cloverfield Lane NEED a rampaging monster to be effective. It’s a complete movie that works on its own (very different) terms.
I understand that, for a lot of people, their preconceived notions of what a movie is “supposed” to be colors their appreciation of the film itself. But please, if you can, try to avoid that mentality. If a movie is operating on a different wavelength than you were expecting, try to adjust. Meet it on its own grounds. If it fails there, then fine. But don’t trash a film for failing to be what you went in wanting, even if a tricky producer put those ideas into your head in the first place.