February 6th, 2018

Looking Glass Clock

The Imaginary Number Leaf Clover

There are already a lot of reviews saying the best thing about 2018's The Cloverfield Paradox is its unorthodox release, being released immediately to Netflix with no trailers or marketing preceding. And while that was indeed the most exciting part for me, I don't think the film's quite as bad as many people are saying. I think it's worst crime isn't being bad--it's just not amazing.

The first two Cloverfield movies worked well in very different ways. The first was a good found footage monster movie and the second was a good, small, psychological thriller. In a sense, The Cloverfield Paradox seems an attempt to combine the two with a healthy dose of Alien but rather than a perfect cocktail the result is something that feels watered down.

An international cast portrays a group of scientists from all over the world who are working on a space station, trying to harness a new source of energy for a war torn Earth. It's an ensemble film but most of the narrative centres on Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) whose husband, Michael (Roger Davies), the film periodically cuts to. He's back on Earth where he starts to witness some of the events portrayed in the first two films--this movie makes an attempt to tie the two seemingly unrelated sci-fi plots together. Apparently the particle accelerator on the space station causes some kind of break in space time resulting in people and things getting shifted to alternate universes.

The movie introduces some plot elements that could have been expanded much further for a more satisfying psychological drama. A German named Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl) is accused at one point of being a saboteur on the strength of communications records found on the station after the malfunction. Another crewmember, Kiel (David Oyelowo), locks him in an airlock but Schmidt's too quickly taken to be innocent when he asserts that the damning records came from an alternate universe. The movie could have spent a lot more time focusing on how the crew can operate with the new dimension of distrust introduced by this phenomenon. Similarly, a Russian member of the crew named Volkov (Aksel Hennie) gets a wonderfully creepy scene where he stares into a mirror and detects really weird signs he's been merged with a Volkov from another universe.

This ends up being played more for spectacle, though, when he's killed by a bunch of earth worms that inexplicably ended up in his body. It's later discovered he has a necessary piece of equipment to get the station running again inside his stomach, an aspect of one of the more criticised plot elements of the film.

Mundy (Chris O'Dowd) gets his arm stuck in a wall which then swallows it. Shortly thereafter, his arm reappears, crawling on the floor, having somehow become rather like Thing from The Addams Family.

It's the arm that writes out the instruction to check Volkov's stomach. A lot of people have justifiably wondered how the arm knew this and how it knew it was around people to whom the information needed to be communicated. I suppose one could say, since Mundy is left in a condition that makes it look like he was born without an arm, maybe the arm comes from an alternate universe populated by sentient arms. Which seems silly but it's the best explanation I can think of. The effective weirdness of the scene really tips too far into the goofy.

Much more effective is an earlier scene where they discover a crewmember, Mina (Elizabeth Debicki), stuck in the wall. Mina knows everyone aboard but no-one knows her. They gradually realise she's from an alternate dimension and this is established at just about the right pace.

The cast also includes Zhang Ziyi who, like Beat Takeshi in the live action Ghost in the Shell, just completely refrains from speaking English. Apparently in the future now everyone understands Mandarin, which is credible enough and Ziyi is a better actress in her native tongue. All of the actors turn in solid work but they're not the colourful bunch from Alien, they come off as kind of dull. With the alternate reality stuff I was reminded a bit of the Mirror Universe elements of Star Trek Discovery, especially since I watched the newest Discovery on the same night. Alternate universes are kind of a good way for exploring the current interest in alternate and flawed perspectives--it's a bit like that popular "Cat Person" story from The New Yorker but with supernatural or speculative science elements. But this is a kind of story with a lot of precedents and none of these new ones so far are better than the "Unrealised Reality" episode of Farscape or the episode "Parallels" from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Twitter Sonnet #1081

A ladder swapped a skin for parachutes.
On shelves of grill they took a dozen chains.
Arrayed beyond the wall were aqua-boots.
The water still invades despite the pains.
Stampeding strings usurp the wired wall.
The language swap interred a spinning disk.
The roundest grave was also very tall.
For ev'ry bean there'll be a seed of risk.
Reviving styles form the hair for now.
Above the head arose the tiny trees.
In distant pins, the light debuts a cow.
The pads ensured survival of its knees.
Above the clouds a demon wants a ship.
The ocean drained with ev'ry gulping sip.