Thursday, March 17, 2016

Days past, when a mind could still be blown

There are no more worlds left to conquer.

Maybe there never were. But it used to feel like there were.

In the eight years between Cloverfield and Cloverfield 2 -- and I'm not going to say if 10 Cloverfield Lane actually has anything to do with the original Cloverfield, because I'm going to avoid spoilers in this post -- something has been lost in our larger pop culture entertainment landscape. And that thing is the ability to really be surprised by something.

Both movies were released with little advanced hype and campaigns that emphasized the mystery of what they were or might be. Or rather, there were not six months of advanced hype, but the month or so of advanced hype we did get, when these movies were suddenly unveiled as impending releases, was intense. A buzz developed around these movies that made them cultural moments. Or at least, that was the case for Cloverfield in 2008. How successfully they recreated that with 10 Cloverfield Lane is a little unclear to me because I've had a busy couple months, and have had my head in the cinematic sand in terms of new releases.

Cloverfield converted on the hype. The mystery of what we weren't seeing in the teaser trailers was exquisite, and exquisitely realized in the final film.

10 Cloverfield Lane didn't convert, at least not for me, at least not to this extent. It could just be that I'm older and less susceptible to this type of thing, but more likely is that we're all a bit more jaded than we were eight years ago.

I blame Lost.

Lost was contemporaneous with Cloverfield, but its most mind-blowing suppositions actually predated Matt Reeves' movie. I think it was in the spring of 2005 that we first learned of the existence of "the hatch." After that, the big question on everyone's lips was "What's in the hatch? What's in the hatch? WHAT'S IN THE HATCH???"

Although it did not seem like the response could possibly be satisfying, it was. At least for a couple seasons. Whether you remained satisfied with what was in the hatch, or any of the many outlandish twists and turns the Lost story took, was more specific to the individual. But at first we were all primed and excited by this, and suddenly, we wanted every entertainment option that existed to make us question what was in its version of "the hatch."

So they all tried to do that. All of them.

It was not yet inescapable by 2008, even if it started (on TV, anyway) a couple years before that. Cloverfield had its hatch, and that hatch was a Godzilla-style lizard captured through the lens of a single video camera. It also had military cover-ups, redacted information on confidential documents, Easter Eggs, and everything else an enterprising sleuth could want.

10 Cloverfield Lane has a hatch -- literally. That's not really a spoiler. Even the poster above gives that much away. The trailers also pretty much show that we are in an underground bunker. We don't want to know what's in the hatch, but rather, what's outside of it.

But hatches have been dropped like a hot potato. Have you ever noticed that you may have ate, drank, slept, and dreamt Lost up until that finale, but two weeks later, you never actually thought about it again? Lost itself was dropped like a hot potato. As quickly as it collectively swept us up in its spell, it deposited us back out again (kind of like a smoke monster, disappearing into the ephemera). Nowadays, people seem to forget Lost was even a thing, and it ended not even six years ago.

It's not that we've stopped craving the type of surprises Lost and Cloverfield could deliver, the kind that gave them a reason for existing in the first place. It's that the bar has been raised to impossibly high levels. In the latter half of the aughts, television writers and screenwriters were given free rein to imagine the most out-there scenarios they could possibly concoct, as everyone was desperate to be "the next Lost." Eventually, though, we reached a saturation point. Now instead of looking for "the next Lost," we could probably pick back through to sometime in 2014, when something was probably "the last Lost." At least until people start becoming interested in hatches again, maybe in the early 2020s.

So let's get back to 10 Cloverfield Lane. It's a good movie that is made really compellingly in parts. But it doesn't grab us like Cloverfield did, because probably nothing can do that these days. Everyone has already imagined the most outlandish possible thing that could be on the other side of that hatch door. When it ends up being among the first half-dozen things we would guess, we aren't impressed.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe I've become a cynical old bastard. Maybe the teenager who was too young to see Cloverfield will have his or her mind blown by 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Or maybe today's writers just need to find new ways to conquer those worlds.

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