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Archive for March 17th, 2018

Annihilation

Before I say anymore, let me nail my colours to the mast; the cinema is the best place to watch films, I watch over a hundred films in the cinema and have done so for the past twenty years.  Regardless of how good a home setup is, it isn’t the same, therefore home viewing is a last resort! Why am I telling you this?

I have recently watched Alex Garland’s new movie Annihilation at home, and not at the cinema, not by choice, but because short of a transatlantic flight it wasn’t possible for me to see the film as the director intended.

To give a little context, this is not a direct to video release in the traditional sense, made by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions, the film was intended for a cinema/theatrical release.  Then a financier at Paramount got cold feet when test audiences described the film as “too intellectual” and “too complicated”.  Said financier was then kind enough to spare us stupid audiences the embarrassment of being confused by the film, what a hero!  The studio decided to release the movie properly in the US and China but sold the rest of the world rites to Netflix for their streaming service.

I suspect anyone reading this will know who Alex Garland is.  For those who don’t, he is a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I first came across him in the late 90’s when he wrote his début novel and cultural touchstone The Beach (1996), that was later turned into a far better than it is given credit for movie.  His next novel The Tesseract (1998) was equally as good; it was also turned into a film but was far too abstract to work on screen.  His final (as yet) novel The Coma (2004) featured fantastic woodcut illustrations by his father, Nicholas Garland.Alex Garland Novels

Garland then turned to screenwriting producing a mixture of adaptations and original stories for: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).Alex Garland screenwriting

He then made his directorial début with one of the best, and most intelligent movies of 2015, Ex Machina, the film that also introduced most of us to the brilliant Alicia Vikander.  This brings us up to date and to Annihilation.   As you may expect from all this background, I loved Annihilation and am greatly disappointed that I did not get to see it as intended on the big screen.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

A brief synopsis: A lighthouse in Florida is hit by a meteor.  The area is quickly overtaken by a “shimmer” that blocks all communication with the outside world.  For reasons that happen in the first act, but I don’t want to spoil, a biology professor (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition led by a doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to ender the shimmer.  Things get a little strange from here.Annihilation

I went into the movie knowing about as much, possibly even less than I have described above and think the film is the better for it.  What follows works on so many levels.  The film is loosely based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, it is reported that Garland read the novel once, then wrote a script based on it without refereeing back to the book.  Without reading the book, which I haven’t it is impossible to tell how much of the subtext is Garland and how much is author Jeff VanderMeer.  The strongest themes that come out are grief and depression, but this is all overshadowed by a compulsion to dominate and destroy.  Does this refer to the West’s interference in the rest of the world, our refusal to accept integration, or simply our destruction of the environment?  Probably a mixture of all of the above! Its strength comes not from the answers it gives, but from the questions it asks, thus making the film not about black and white absolutes, but about what we the audience bring to it.  I have heard comparisons with  Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival; while the subject matter has little more than a passing resemblance, the mood very similar.Annihilation

As well as the brilliant, and aforementioned Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the cast also includes Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac, all of whom are excellent.  The subject of the largely female cast is broached and dismissed brilliantly within the narrative.  However, I can’t help the sad feeling that at least part of the studios lack of confidence in the project stems from the shortage of Y chromosomes!  I can only assume that Netflix paid all or most of the budget, reported to be around $50million, why else would the studio take such drastic action, they would have almost certainly made its money back.  Interestingly, it is actually Netflix that come out of this looking best following the critical mauling they have recently received for their Sci-Fi, “Netflix Originals” needed a credible movie.  What Happened to Monday was good but lacked any buzz on release the way it would have given a cinema release.  David Ayer’s Bright, and Duncan Jones’s Mute were both better than reported.  The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise-release certainly got people talking, but not in a good way, I haven’t seen it so don’t know if the reaction is fair.  With Annihilation, Netflix have a degree of credibility, and have also got people talking, this can’t be a bad thing for them.Annihilation

We are in a strange time for cinema as technology is moving faster than the film industry can understand.  It may be a period that ends with films being simultaneously released for both home and theatrical release as advocated by film critic Mark Kermode.

This all adds up to a brilliant film, that should be seen on a big screen, a screen we measure in feet not inches!

 

 

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