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How ‘The Cellar’ Became ’10 Cloverfield Lane’: Breaking Down the Original Script vs. the Final Film

Written by on March 12, 2016 

10 Cloverfield Lane 1

The Climax

The movie ends with something out of the farmhouse scene in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, with Michelle escaping from Howard and getting outside of the shelter, only to find that aliens have invaded and are hunting people. She must outwit a worm-like attack dog and then do exactly what Tom Cruise did in War of the Worlds, introducing an explosive device into a biological looking orifice on an alien craft to escape from its massive tentacles. Then, after all of this, she embarks to Houston to kick some alien ass, in a “the battle is over, let’s fight the war” kind of ending cribbed from Battle: Los Angeles. In the last shot, flashes of lightning reveal alien ships in the distance, indicating the film-long struggle we just witnessed is comparatively minuscule.

In the original script, Michelle escapes the shelter and is chased through the farmhouse by Howard, who still wants to “protect” her. She blinds him with bathroom cleaner, he tells her about his tragic life (dead wife, missing daughter, treacherous Nate, etc.), and then she shoots him in the kneecap and runs away. He ends the movie alive, entreating Michelle to “be careful.” Later, after traveling down empty roads and finding no one around to help her, she crests a hill and sees the Chicago skyline, smoldering and destroyed. No explanation is given. We don’t even know what she will do next, only that she now knows that Howard, for all his oddity, was correct. The final line in the script is, “She slowly pulls down the mask on the hazmat suit before taking a breath.”

Which is Better?

It’s hard, if not impossible, to argue that the original script does better by the characters or the inherent tension of the story. The way Michelle in The Cellar is treated as a nearly universal object of desire and envy is a bit old-fashioned, and the inclusion of a sex scene described as “the kind of wild, passionate sex that only happens with the world coming to an end” is fairly clichéd and ultimately disappointing, especially considering that it is heavily implied that this is sex in trade for protection. The character of Nate as he exists in the original script is also more unsavory and thus much less interesting than the way Emmett is presented in the film. It’s hard to say how the Howards stack up to one another considering how Goodman’s performance could probably make either one utterly compelling.

Howard’s kidnapping subplot in the movie, though, does feel weirdly unnecessary and a little cruel, though, robbing the character of a lot of the moral ambiguity and sympathy that made him so interesting at first in the movie and ultimately tragic in the original script.

In the The Cellar, Howard is proven wholly good and right and pitifully misunderstood and broken. In the movie, he is a monster who is just crazy enough to have been right about this very crazy scenario, but the ending doesn’t work toward aligning our sympathy with him. He may have been right, and his shelter may have saved them, but he was still a bellowing, homicidal kidnapper. Still, Movie Howard’s overt aggression is a big step up dramatically over Original Script Howard’s passive-aggression.

The weirdest change is the aliens. You could make all the changes the movie made and still have an ending that required no aliens. So why add aliens? This is the big question I am sure people will wrestle with after hearing about how the story was initially drafted. There is not a single iota of science fiction present in the old script, and to see it injected so randomly and earnestly into the end of the film is both shocking and thrilling but, ultimately, baffling. The change of the name to 10 Cloverfield Lane also seems weirdly uncalled for, setting up as it does an expectation for monsters and a connection to the previous film, but that will be another point for fans to debate. Would this film be better without the baggage of expectation? What made this script ripe for this odd treatment? Having read the script, it’s difficult to decipher made this script feel right for this particular move artistically (we all get it from a marketing point of view). I can say, however, that without the baggage of expectation, even with the aliens, odds are this movie would be better off.

So yes, 10 Cloverfield Lane is, as a whole, better than The Cellar would have been. But I think if Howard could have been kept murder-free, if the aliens hadn’t been injected in, and the title weren’t such a baffling attempt to provide unnecessary context and expectation, we might be dealing with something genuinely great, rather than just a strange, effective, yet ultimately frustrating thriller.

Listen to our in-depth discussion of the film below.

What do you think of the differences between the script and film? Which do you prefer?

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