What was the deal with the monster? What was up with all the nasty little monsters that kept flaking off the big monster? And most of all: Why was Cloverfield called Cloverfield? Yep, Paramount's cleverly marketed vid-cam monster movie produced by cult pop guru J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek) has left moviegoers with scads of burning questions, none of which Abrams intends to answer anytime soon. This much is certain: Cloverfield is a gargantuan hit. Smashing box office records the way its slimy creature pulverized skyscrapers, Abrams' high-concept viral video Godzilla set a new MLK-weekend mark by grossing $46 million about $20 million more than many industry estimates. Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore credits the larger-than-expected turnout to intensifying buzz generated by the film's mystery marketing plus surprisingly strong reviews: ''It really came together in the final week and started to feel like a phenomenon.''
Produced for just $25 million, Cloverfield is on track to make Paramount a hefty profit. Yet the film might have a problem keeping the buzz going. According to CinemaScore, ticket buyers gave the brisk-and-brutal 84-minute flick a mediocre C. ''This film has polarized people,'' says Abrams. ''Some love its different approach to the monster movie; for others it was the cinematic version of ipecac.'' Of course, it's also possible that Cloverfield's ''unconventional ending,'' as spoiler-sensitive Moore likes to put it, might have depressed instant-reaction responses too.
But no movie can make this much money and not be considered for a sequel. While Abrams says, ''I wouldn't want to rush into it because of the heat on the movie I'd want to do something that is true to the spirit of what we made,'' producer Bryan Burk says the creative team ''has fleshed out an entire backstory which, if we're lucky, we might get to explore in future films.'' Possible plots: an attack on another city or telling the same New York event from other perspectives. (Moore says ''official'' sequel talk has not yet begun.) Meanwhile, hardcore fans seeking answers can puzzle through a series of videos (keyword ''Chuai Station'' at YouTube.com) and websites (like slusho.jp/) for clues about the monster. And a forthcoming manga comic might disclose more intel about the creature Abrams and Co. affectionately refer to as ''Clover.'' Taking Manhattan and destroying it may just be the beginning of Clover's reign of terror.