By John Lee
The film industry is no stranger to horrible sequels. Whenever some visionary director or screenwriter comes up with a fantastic new film that takes over the box office, it seems like someone always tries to ride on the coattails of that success by creating a sequel or by simply remaking the original. In fact, this is a relatively new phenomenon.
According to a 2014 study conducted by Yahoo! Movies, only 25% of the year’s major films were original, meaning they weren’t based on books or inspired by actual events, or weren’t remakes of pre-existing movies or part of established franchises, compared to about 29% that were remakes or part of a franchise.
Yet, these statistics mean nothing if the films being created, although unoriginal, at least honor their source material. Sadly, this is often not the case, as evidenced by the presentation of the first Razzie Award for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel at the 14th annual 1994 Golden Raspberry Awards, a satirical award show created to acknowledge only the worst of the year’s films.
Earlier this month, director Dan Trachtenberg and producer J.J. Abrams produced a film that brings hope to moviegoers who are sick of useless sequels and remakes. Generally off-the-radar prior to its release on March 11, “10 Cloverfield Lane” quickly rose to second place at the box office after earning $24.7 million in its opening weekend.
However, many viewers might not have known that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a “spiritual successor” to the 2008 film “Cloverfield.” This means that unlike other franchise films that create almost exact replicas in hopes that the public would enjoy paying money to watch essentially the same film all over again, “10 Cloverfield Lane” takes the premise of its predecessor and presents an entirely original synopsis and even a totally different narrative style. According to Abrams, “10 Cloverfield Lane” doesn’t even take place in the same universe as the original but connects to it thematically.
“The spirit of it, the genre of it, the heart of it, the fear factor, the comedy factor, the weirdness factor, there were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place that ‘Cloverfield’ was born out of,” Abrams said in an interview with “Entertainment Weekly.”
The first “Cloverfield” follows a group of six New York City residents attempting to survive a terrifying attack by a Godzilla-esque monster that destroys the city. The movie is stylistically presented as if it is recorded directly by the characters as the event actually occurs (known as found footage filmography).
In contrast, “10 Cloverfield Lane” follows a young woman in Louisiana who tries to escape the underground bunker of a man who is convinced the world outside has become devastated by some unknown apocalyptic event. Thus, the sequel includes a new story and a new set of characters, while presented in third-person narrative as opposed to the found footage format of the original.
Not only does “10 Cloverfield Lane” take the principal occurrence of its predecessor and put it through an entirely different perspective, but it does it well. In fact, according to many critics, the film performed better than the original, earning a rating of 90% from Rotten Tomatoes, which gave “Cloverfield” a 77%. The film’s already intense and gripping storyline was only strengthened by John Goodman’s terrifying portrayal of doomsday prepper Howard Stambler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s honest performance as the desperate Michelle. For a film with only three on-screen characters, set 1,300 miles away from the events of the first film, “10 Cloverfield Lane” surprisingly manages to satisfy.
Thus, this film has broken boundaries of what can be achieved through franchise filmmaking. Whether viewers had seen the 2008 movie prior to experiencing the 2016 sequel or had just as little idea about what was happening above-ground as the characters themselves, they left the theater feeling satisfied. Understanding the origins of the film only enhances the experience, because it becomes so much more real by acknowledging the fact that people have different perspectives of any event. The original was one, and “10 Cloverfield Lane” indirectly demonstrated another.
Even Matt Reeves, the director of the 2008 “Cloverfield” who played no part in the creation of the sequel, expressed similar sentiments years ago when the original film came to theaters.
“The idea of doing something so differently is exhilarating… The thing about doing a sequel is that I think we all really feel protective of that experience. The key here will be if we can find something that is compelling enough and that is different enough for us to do, then it will probably be worth doing,” Reeves said in an interview.
Based on the reception it has gotten so far, it seems “10 Cloverfield Lane” was definitely worth it. Just as the film’s poster dramatically declares that “monsters come in many forms,” the new addition to the “Cloverfield” franchise proves that sequels do so as well.