Bad Robot is releasing a new Cloverfield movie on 03-11-16, more than eight years after its cinematic debut. The film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, isn’t exactly an official sequel to the original, but has been described by JJ Abrams as a “blood relative” to the film. Whether this blood relative will mark the return of the enigmatic Cloverfield Monster remains to be seen, but the familial resemblance is evident with 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s new alternate reality game.
It’s highly doubtful that a thorough understanding of a eight-year-old viral marketing campaign will be required to enjoy the return to the Cloverfield universe…but then again, it can’t hurt to be prepared for anything.
The Mystery of 1-18-08
On July 4, 2007 moviegoers were treated to a trailer for a JJ Abrams film with no name. All they had to go on was shaky footage of the surprise farewell party for a cool dude named Rob, wholesale destruction of property by…something, and a date: 1-18-08.
From the date, players quickly discovered the (now-defunct) 1-18-08.com, which served as home for a growing collection of photographs. Click on a picture and shake it enough, and you might flip it over and find a message or two. Stay on the site long enough, and you might catch a muffled roar. But for the “main” Cloverfield site? That was pretty much it.
The story emerged as players explored beyond the photographs. One path led players to tracking down (now blank) MySpace profiles of a group of friends that would eventually gather for an ill-fated party on January 18, 2008. Yes, MySpace. Hey, it was a different time. Jamie Lascano was particularly active, and set up the website JamieandTeddy.com to document her only slightly creepy long distance relationship with Teddy Hanssen through a series of private vlogs, protected under the password “jllovesth”.
The Slusho Connection
While players were learning more about Rob and his group of friends, players were digging into Slusho, a fictional frozen drink briefly shown on a t-shirt in the trailer. The company was a subsidiary of Tagruato Corp. In addition to slushie slinging, the global conglomerate focuses on deep sea exploration through Yoshida Medical Research, telecommunications through Bold Futura, and…ParafFUN! Who knew there were so many fun uses for paraffin wax?
Oddly enough, Slusho was the center of the original Cloverfield marketing campaign’s narrative. Not because Rob’s surprise party was to celebrate his new job as VP of Marketing and Promotions for Slusho…but because there was something decidedly off about the company’s flagship product. All sorts of consumer packaged goods companies love to tout their secret recipes, but Slusho’s Seabed’s Nectar was secretive enough for the Ravaille Research Center to launch an investigation into the mysterious compound’s properties. In addition to euphoria, the substance increased strength and eyesight, and even accelerated cellular growth. How and why did a substance with such incredible properties end up in a sugary drink, especially when the company already had a branch dedicated to medical advances?
Teddy Hanssen might have stumbled across the answer to that. Originally an employee for Tagruato subsidiary ParafFUN!, Teddy learned something that convinced him to join up with TIDOWave, an environmental activist group investigating the less sweet and savory side of Tagruato’s business ventures.
Teddy infiltrated Tagruato’s Chuai Station just off the coast of New York, and even managed to smuggle out a sample of Seabed’s Nectar to his girlfriend Jamie…unfortunately, she thought he was just breaking up with her, and ate the evidence. Also unfortunate? Something happened at Chuai Station, and Teddy wasn’t the only one to go missing.
What is the Cloverfield Monster?
In mid December, Chuai Station disappeared. Tagruato’s deep sea exploration team disturbed something on the ocean floor, and the oil rig was wiped out by the monster and its parasites.
Very little is revealed about the Cloverfield Monster in either the marketing campaign or the film itself. Most of what is known about the monster that destroyed Manhattan is revealed in the Cloverfield manga, released only in Japanese, with unofficial translations floating around online.
Released in three parts, the manga tells the story of an attack by the Cloverfield monster and its parasites in Japan. According to the comic, Tagruato made a number of discoveries at the ocean’s floor 15 years prior to the attack. One of these was a pod that was somehow in communication with the monster. A cult stole the pod from Tagruato and embedded it in the child Kishin Aiba, who gained limited control over the monster before finally returning the pod to pacify the beast.
That doesn’t answer the question of what exactly the Cloverfield monster is, or why the movie would end with a flashback to something falling out of the sky. The party line from Tagruato Corp is that pieces of a government satellite fell to earth, necessitating the deployment of the company’s own satellite to scour the ocean for signs of the fragment. This would have been a convenient excuse to track the recently awakened Cloverfield Monster, but video footage confirms that something did fall out of the sky, precipitating the film’s disastrous events.
Waiting for Answers from Cloverfield
The Cloverfield viral campaign revealed what little we know about Rob and his friends, Tagruato, and the Monster slowly. Snippets of narrative would be unveiled through torn letters sent alongside an order for a Slusho hat or buried within secret codes in the film’s DVD release, but the primary channels of communication were used to build ambiance more than anything else. An eco-protest targeting Tagruato CEO Ganu Yoshida ensures the executive is in town for the events of Cloverfield, but his presence goes unremarked and largely unnoticed in the film itself. The culmination of Teddy Hanssen’s investigations is a sample of an unknown substance that gets spitefully consumed by a bitter ex-girlfriend.
Cloverfield laid the groundwork for a story of corporate malfeasance that never got told. Tagruato and its subsidiaries were involved with something at the bottom of the sea, but we never find out exactly what. Slusho’s secret ingredient has an awfully suspicious side effect list for a knock-off Slurpee, but we never learn what it’s actually made of, or even why a company would sell what should be considered a wonder drug as if it were just another caffeine alternative. All we are left with is the fallout. Missing people, a destroyed city, and one (presumably) dead monster. In an experience designed around hunting out the truth, we are left with many questions and very few answers. Although it’s pretty safe to say Tagruato is not a very nice company.
While Cloverfield may have been stingy on the answers, it excelled at extending the campaign beyond the premiere. Much of the information discovered about the narrative came about after the vaunted 1-18-08 premiere date, with information around the Chuai Station disaster and the Japanese incident waiting until just before the film’s DVD release in June to be unveiled, and a secret code on the DVD unlocking additional features.
Still, eight years is a long time to wait for answers…
Eight Years Later
Manhattan took a beating during the events of Cloverfield, but Tagruato lives on. At least, it’s around enough to nominate Louisiana-based Bold Futura telemetry analyst Howard Stambler (played by John Goodman) as employee of the month. Stambler is more than a little paranoid – his website Radioman70 (gleaned from his tshirt, much like the initial discovery of Slusho.jp) redirects to the innocuous Pinterest knock-0ff FunAndPrettyThings.com.
Hidden between pictures of cats kissing and ice cream sundaes is a clickable image of Molly Ringwald in front of a computer from Pretty in Pink that pulls up a prompt for a password. Entering “Do you want to talk?” from that scene unlocks a one-sided conversation between Stambler and his estranged daughter Megan (mirroring the password-protected, one-sided dialogue Jamie maintained with Teddy on JamieandTeddy.com).
Stambler is paranoid about the world coming to an end, although he implies that his time with the Navy and possibly Bold Futura led to the discovery of something that lent some practical grounding to his healthy paranoia. Like any good Doomsday Prepper, Stambler constructed a deluxe bunker prepared to see him through the worst the future might offer, and the secret side of Fun and Pretty Things serves as an instruction manual for his daughter, rife with escape routes and bug-out bag tips. He even hacked together a text-based survival simulator game to prepare Megan for life in the bunker.
10 Cloverfield Lane and Stambler’s Cache
What little we’ve learned of Stambler aligns well with the teaser trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, when Stambler puts his bunker on lockdown because something is coming.
Versions of the trailer featured scrambled GPS coordinates pointing to a field in Covington, Louisiana. Redditor MugensKeeper went to the location and found an empty bottle of SwampPop laying on the ground. After breaking out a shovel and digging at the location, he found an ammo box cache left by Stambler containing survival gear and a series of USB drives containing multiple copies of the same audio file discussing a burst of magnetic energy and dated February 11, 2016.
Sifting Through Uncertain Clues
It’s damnably hard to tell whether clues in Cloverfield‘s alternate reality games are part of the official story or not. The first hint that Bad Robot might be running an alternate reality game for 10 Cloverfield Lane came with fans discovering that, like Slusho, the bottles of Swamp Pop featured in the teaser trailer could be linked to a company website, populated with scattered references to the Cloverfield universe. People who ordered bottles of soda from the company received puzzle pieces, but nothing much came of it. Similarly, the URL for 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s release date, 3-11-16.com, redirects to the drawing of a Cold War-era bomb shelter. Some gamejacks, like those of enthusiastic players hacking the survival simulator to inject messages into the leaderboard, are more overt and easily dismissed.
Are these trails part of the game? Maybe. Nothing overtly rules them out, at any rate. But the original Cloverfield alternate reality game was inundated with numerous attempts to take over the narrative, ranging from the creation of imitation MySpace profiles to the viral campaign Ethan Haas Was Right. And it looks like that tradition has continued as well.
As Before, So Again – Earning the “Blood Relative” Title
Tagruato has returned, although its focus seems to have shifted from the ocean’s depths and into outer space, based on Howard Stambler’s telemetry work at Bold Futura and the cached audio file communications. And the renewed Cloverfield alternate reality game is rife with stylistic nods to its predecessor, with the narrative currently centered around an online website with an intended audience of one.
That also comes with a return of many of the frustrations with the first iteration, as attempts to derail the narrative abound. The game also seems to be much more interested in establishing a digital mise an scène as opposed to revealing answers to the big questions – a perfectly valid stance, but not necessarily one that meshes well with audiences tasked with sifting through information looking for answers.
Eight years is a long time, however, and 10 Cloverfield Lane benefits from that experience from the narrative standpoint. Despite its late start, the core story is much tighter this time around, relying less on multiple dangling threads and open questions.
10 Cloverfield Lane‘s premiere is less than three weeks away, but if the film continues to echo the original, the movie’s premiere may not spell the end for this experience. Who knows – it might even resolve a few longstanding questions as things develop.
To follow along with the action, join the discussions on the Unfiction forums and Reddit and follow CloverfieldClues.com for more frequent updates on the game’s progress. Cloverfield Clues did an exceptional job documenting and vetting clues and theories surrounding the Cloverfield universe back in 2007, and has returned to do so again with 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s alternate reality game.