DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 5/29/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/11/2018
For some, science-fiction is simply about imaginative fun, with the focus being on outer-space action or dinosaur antics. For others, science-fiction, be it in films or in literature, is a much more serious thing. These stories can not only present fantastic ideas and futuristic places, but they can plum the depths of the human experience and ask really important questions about who we are and where we are going. At first glance, the film Annihilation probably looks like serious science-fiction; the kind which would ask the deep questions. But, instead, the questions which emerge are things like "What is happening?" and "Who paid for this to be made?"
Annihilation opens with a meteorite falling to Earth and landing near a lighthouse. We are next introduced to Lena (Natalie Portman), a college professor who is having trouble dealing with the fact that her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), a soldier, has disappeared. She is shocked when Kane suddenly appears in their house, sick and disoriented. Lena and Kane are whisked away to Area X, which is a quarantined area near where the meteorite landed. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains that an area, which has been deemed "The Shimmer", has formed in the region and the various expeditions into this location have ended in disaster, and also that Kane had been a part of one of these top-secret missions. Lena volunteers to join Ventress on the next venture into The Shimmer, along with Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), a physicist; Cassie Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), an anthropologist; and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), a paramedic. Once these women enter the region, they find strange, alien-looking plants, along with some aggressive animals. They also learn that time works differently there and that things aren't always what they seem.
At the outset, Annihilation appears to have the makings of a classic science-fiction film. The first act is a slow-burn as we travel with Lena to Area X and gradually learn the details along with her. This portion of the film reminded me of Aliens or Jurassic Park, where the first segment serves as a set-up for the big action to come. Except, that big action never arrives. Once the team enters The Shimmer, the second act does feature two action sequences, but it's mostly dominated by talk and debate. The story, which wants to present itself as being somewhat unique, then begins to dabble in cliche, as one character falls prey to paranoia. There is also a scene which is probably meant to be a homage to John Carpenter's The Thing, but feels more like a direct rip-off.
Despite some brief flurries of action, most of Annihilation is pretty boring and seems to have no narrative flow. The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Writer/Director Alex Garland. Garland's previous film,Ex Machina, garnered praise from critics and fans, but I found it to be plodding film which would have been better as a three-character play. But, at least that movie had a cohesive story. Annihilation is based on the first book in a trilogy by Author Jeff VanderMeer, which Garland didn't adapt directly, but instead decided to bring his "subjective view" of the novel to the screen. The result is underdeveloped characters, no answers to any of the film's questions, and a finale which will leave audiences either confused or laughing. At no point does Annihilation look like a cheap movie, but one can't help but think that those who paid for the movie to be made should have been double-checking on things like story and plot. (And don’t get me started on the film’s lack of logic. Would “scientists” really enter an unknown area without any protective gear?)
As noted in my review for Ex Machina, Garland has done a lot of work with Oscar winner Danny Boyle, one of the best storytellers of his generation. But, apparently Garland wasn't paying attention, as he seems incapable of producing a truly engaging movie. It is clear that Garland wanted to make his own 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, at least the bulk of that movie was good. (I don’t like the ending and I never will.) With Annihilation, Garland has made a film which looks good and contains a few good idea, but ironically, for a movie which focuses on DNA, it lacks the primary building blocks for a solid film.
Annihilation probably killed the chances of seeing the other two books on the screen on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 40 Mbps. (Although, the bitrate is all over the place, going as high as 90 and as low as 5.) The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source material. Garland has used a lot of lens flare and soft focus here, so the picture borders on having detail issues, but it maintains its stability throughout. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth works well, most notably when the group is exploring the forest. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a lively track which does a great job of highlighting sounds coming from off-screen, enveloping us in the scenes which take place in The Shimmer. The subwoofer effects deliver during the action sequences, while the stereo effects show good separation.
The extra features for Annihilation are found on the Blu-ray Disc included in this set. "Part 1 - Southern Reach" (26 minutes) focuses on the film's origins, as it features interviews with Director Alex Garland and Novelist Jeff VanderMeer. This is where Garland admits that he didn't adapt the book, but his "subjective view" of the book. He also states that the he doesn't know what his influences are. From there, other members of the creative team talk about how they tackled the subject matter. The second part of this piece focuses on the casting and the characters. "Part 2 - Area X" (27 minutes) starts by taking us on-set and reveals that the film was shot in sequence and that it was shot in England. This faeturette sets its sight on the film's production and how some key moments were shot. The physical effects and visual effects are also studied here. "Part 3 - To the Lighthouse" (20 minutes) hits on the look of the film and how FX were used to create an alien world. The piece ends with Garland praising his crew.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long