When most people think about the genre of science fiction, titles like Star Trek and Star Wars spring to mind. Yes, those two properties are fine examples of the genre. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say these fan-favorites are the best example of it. Particularly not Wars or the newer Trek adventures, which are more action-infused. Science-fiction, as a genre, traditionally focuses on elements of science, the future, technology, the environment, etc. and how all those said factors have an impact on the human condition. For when it comes to such elements, will we as humans prosper or perish in the future? Furthermore, will we be doing so in a utopian or dystopian future?
The best examples of the sci-fi genre give us reason to ponder such things. Think more 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and less The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). (Not that there’s anything wrong with Star Wars and Buckaroo Banzai, mind you; there a lot of fun.) What I’m referring to though are sci-fi stories that have more traditional roots in the genre of which they are a part. That being tales that are science-based, weighty and cerebral. The latest example of such is the recently-released film, Annihilation.
Based on the first novel of the same name in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the film focuses on an environmental anomaly. After a meteor strikes Earth, a strange thing happens. As opposed to causing destruction, the meteor creates a sort of encasement of the swamplands and forests in which it lands. This transparent encasement begins to spread for miles, causing both environmental and evolutionary changes as it goes. Following this, a group of female scientists led by botanist and Army vet, Lena (Natalie Portman), goes into what they refer to as “The Shimmer,” to investigate what is happening.
Just like the scientists who make their expedition into “The Shimmer,” Annihilation presents a real discovery to its audience. Screenwriter/Director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) has managed to craft a picture that is nearly perfect. Visually, the movie is stunning, which immediately catches the eye. Once Annihilation’s visuals sucked me in, the movie’s narrative quickly followed suit. The story sets itself up a slow-burning sci-fi/mystery. There are clues here and there, and answers are presented. However, the film does demand attention; which to me is a beautiful thing. But be warned, if you choose to watch this movie, open your mind and free yourself of as many distractions as possible. If you do, I assure you that you will be rewarded with an engrossing and provoking cinematic experience.
As I’ve said, Annihilation’s story and cinematography are fantastic. More importantly, the movie presents us with something new, that’s a rare treat at the movies these days. A large part of why the film works so well is its mostly female cast. Natalie Portman (Thor: The Dark World, Jackie) does an excellent job as her performance perfectly presents the character of Lena. Granted, I did find Portman’s delivery to be a bit stilted; which on the one hand, is slightly distracting. On the other hand, though, I thought such a delivery fit the character. Lena is straightforward and scientific, having no time to dawdle.
Aside from Lena, the rest of the scientists are equally as exciting and fleshed out as our primary protagonist. I found myself caring about each of them, just as much as I did Portman’s character. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I very much liked Tessa Thompson’s character of Josie Radek; having become a fan of the actress after last year’s Thor: Ragnarok. Moreover, having a cast of female characters who function as a team and can fend for themselves is, sadly, a rarity and was refreshing. Sure, Kill Bill (2003-2004) and Wonder Woman (2017) are excellent female empowerment movies. However, I’d go so far as to say that Annihilation is by far the best example of this all too-small subgenre. Perhaps the reason I say that is because these characters are so fleshed-out and realistic as opposed to the pulp-inspired films referenced.
Personally, I think Annihilation proves to be an immediate genre classic. Now, if the rest of the audience will come to such a conclusion remains to be seen. I suppose time will tell as, unfortunately, at this point in its theatrical run; the movie has yet to turn a profit. Though I think its straight-to-Netflix release in most countries has something to do with that.
Paramount’s decision to release this movie in such a fashion saddens me. While Annihilation isn’t perfect due to some pacing issues, it’s damn close to being so. This movie demands a lot of the viewer, but it’s worth it. I urge you that if you care about the genre or even just intelligent, original films, please see Annihilation before it leaves theaters if you live in an area where that’s an option. I assure you, a home-viewing won’t do it justice!
ANNIHILATION IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS IN THE U.S. INTERNATIONALLY; IT CAN BE STREAMED ON NETFLIX!