‘Bluray or Bust’
ANNIHILATION (2018, R, 115 Minutes, SKYDANCE MEDIA/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
When I first saw the trailers for writer/director Alex Garland’s ANNIHILATION, I was intrigued by the auteur’s idea. After all, his Academy Award winning 2014 EX MACHINA was a lovely, mechanically violent ballet that ended on a hopeful note for Skynet and all the other evil machines that want to send robots to kill all mankind.
But it was also a film that closely followed a prior iteration of the same concept, the British film THE MACHINE. That film was about scientists accidentally creating a robot that became aware of itself—a female robot, one which was designed to kill, yet grew a conscience. Garlands’s EX was about a dude creating sex robots and AI. Which may not seem like much of a similarity, until you address the fact that the machine in each film had the same freaking name: Ava.
EX MACHINA was not a bad film—on the contrary, it netted newcomer Alicia Vikander several award nominations for her portrayal of the robot. Caity Lotz of “Arrow” fame also received no small amount of attention for her portrayal of Eva in the other female robot movie. I’m not dropping any accusations here; there are oftentimes when I watch a film that I think it could have been better had the writer taken the story in a different direction. I won’t say that MACHINA was better than MACHINE (do I need to point out the similarity in the titles? Anyone?), as both were terribly good films. Yet comparisons beyond what I have pointed out could be made.
What intrigued me about ANNIHILATION is that the film’s premise looked eerily similar to 2016’s ARRIVAL: something alien in origin plants itself on earth in a remote setting, a barrier goes up, stuff starts getting weird, and heads start getting screwed with. While ARRIVAL seemed more concerned with the moral dilemmas presented by the arrival of aliens, ANNIHILATION seemed more of a monster movie on the surface. Like, aliens show up and create this barrier, and after you go through it you never come back because something eats your face off. Remember the barrier in ARRIVAL?
Okay, really, not trying to point out the obvious here (both movies also have one word titles), as I’m not throwing any accusations around (and both of them start with the letter “A”)—hell, I’m a hack movie reviewer/critic/jackass that never finished college—but while watching ANNIHILATION, you almost get the feeling that Garland saw ARRIVAL and thought “yeah, but wouldn’t it be better if someone got their face eaten off?”, and then sat down and started writing.
Nothing wrong with that, kids—we all have those thoughts, we all sometimes wish a film or a book or one of our teenagers would maybe go in a different direction. It doesn’t mean there is any plagiarizing going on here, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Garland was trying to re-do something Denis Villeneuve already did. ANNIHILATION is a strong enough film on its own, just as EX MACHINA was. The writing is strong, the acting stronger (a mostly female cast led by Natalie Portman and the nearly emotionless Jennifer Jason Leigh), and the visuals are stunning. There is a consistency in Garland’s detail that you cannot help but notice, most importantly the use of color in the scenes once the cast crosses into The Shimmer, that aforementioned barrier that seems to be encompassing more and more of our planet as the days go on. There are bright hues and colorful prisms in nearly every shot. And when it is compared to our drab earth, it is a shock meant to make you think ‘what if?’, as in ‘what if they just let this alien stuff take over… at least everything would look like it had been assaulted by Skittles, and everyone loves freaking Skittles’.
Even if this isn’t a case of “could be better if they did this instead”, Garland creates images and sequences which may stick with you. And don’t judge the rest of the film by this complaint/observation, but the true form of the “alien” could have been better executed, meaning (slight SPOILER ALERT) better sound effects and please, for the love of the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus, less dubstep. Seriously.
At any rate, you should check the film out on Blu-ray—those visuals are quite lovely, and the score, which is occasionally difficult to distinguish from the audio effects, is rich enough to utilize the base in your surround sound. There are four informative docs, including an interesting look at the half-sunken fishing shack, and how they shot the film sequentially—not something every filmmaker has the opportunity to do.
Don’t ignore this film just because I, jackass extraordinaire, made a couple of silly comparisons. But I will most certainly use it as a platform to get you to go watch THE MACHINE. Just because.
Special Features: A-
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely
-- T.S. Kummelman