Annihilation: I’m still disappointed in Alex Garland

I’ve been looking forward to the movie adaptation of Annihilation for a long time, largely because I really enjoyed the book and also because of one specific reason: the cast of the book is, with one exception, entirely female. This is a big deal, since the story revolves around a bunch of highly-educated, idiosyncratic scientists going into what is essentially the Everglades if the Everglades were a haunted house. I was disappointed to see such a big name as Oscar Isaac cast in the movie, though I enjoy him in most things, because I knew that would mean that his role as the husband was intended to be expanded. I rationalized that this was probably a good thing. After all, his death in the book is the entire emotional impetus for the Biologist’s entry into the psychotropic-murder-swamp that is Area X. It made sense that he would have a bigger role.

That impetus, at least, did not change.

(SPOILERS, if you haven’t figured that out yet.)

The movie kept a lot of things to love about the book, including the general creep-fest that is Area X. It jettisoned a lot of other things. Some of this was good. All of the characters got names, for example. There was no magical hypnosis to control their minds, and Area X was a bit closer than I expected, but overall they made some good decisions with that. I was also gratified that, when the husband – called Kane in the movie – did show up, the awkward sex scene didn’t happen. I was not particularly into that sex scene, for obvious reasons to do with consent, though it worked in the book in ways it would never have been able to work in the movie.

That’s about the end of the good changes, I think.

As a whole, the narrative the movie went with was not terrible, but it was not exceptional either. While there was no way that the movie could have stayed entirely true to the book – different mediums being what they are – my dominant feeling coming out of this movie was a sense of disquiet. That disquiet had nothing to do with the giant monster-animals eating people’s throats out to steal their voices, though that was creepy. It had a lot more to do with the fact that Oscar Isaac had such a central role in this film, as I had suspected. In the book, the Biologist goes into Area X to find her husband, or at least find out what happened to him. It is clear from early on that the doppleganger that returns is not him, but a copy, and a malformed one. The Biologist is an ecologist, and she relishes the diversity and fecundity of the newly reclaimed landscape, free of human contamination. Her connection with Area X is almost as personal as her relationship with her husband by the end, who, by the way, she does not find in the first book. Instead, we are left to guess at their story. Did she drown? Did she meet him on the island? Are they living together, still, or dead together, their ghosts haunting this new world?

In contrast, the doppleganger of Kane survives. Lena, the biologist, sets out to eradicate the thing that has threatened her love with her hard-earned military skills. She finds video of her husband at several places, including video of his death. Because of the loss she has experienced, she treats Area X like a cancer, not a cleansing. She burns it. And when she comes home she gets a happy-ever-after with Kane’s echo, miraculously alive.

Kane’s fate remains central to Lena’s story, but not in the way that the husband’s fate is central to the story of the Biologist. There are relatively few points of dialogue in the movie that do not center around Kane or Kane’s all-male team. (I cannot think of an instance of dialogue that does not at some point mention Kane or Kane’s team once they have entered Area X, excepting perhaps the scene with the alligator.) There are also three named male characters in this adaptation, one of whom was invented from whole-cloth to cast Lena as an adulterer, a confusing decision at best. I believe this was supposed to be a way to rationalize Kane’s decision to enter Area X, but it felt like an excuse to show Natalie Portman naked. Keep in mind that this is an adaptation of a book told entirely from a female scientist’s perspective, one whose central themes include a profoundly ecological bent (entirely removed in this on-screen iteration), and where the only male character dies within the first two chapters and lives primarily as a ghost in the narrator’s head.

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It is disappointing to watch a movie that might have, in a better world, taken a diverse female cast and given them a gripping, cerebral storyline that didn’t revolve around men – and which fails to do so. Annihilation was not a terrible movie, taken out of the context of the source text. I do not hate it. But there was so much potential for what it could have been. And despite numerous things done right, the movie fell short of that potential.


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Upcoming movies and some guest posts

We are so close to Wedding Day! And given that, my general ability to think thoughts is pretty depleted. Please instead enjoy this pulpy post.

But first, some housekeeping for all you lovely readers. I’m featuring a few guest bloggers over the next few weeks while I’m away getting married and traveling and such. I’m super excited to introduce you to these lovely ladies, who are going to be talking about a wide range of fantasy/science fiction topics. Please check in over the next three weeks and check them out!

Now, on to the matter at hand. What movies am I looking forward to in 2017?

Annihilation – Released ???

For those who haven’t read Jeff VanderMeer’s book by the same name, you probably should. An eerie, atmospheric tale where the horror is mostly in the mind, but not entirely, this story tells the tale of a scientist (unnamed) who goes into Area X, equal parts Area 51 and alternate dimension, to search for answers regarding her husband’s disappearance and death. They’ve kept the release date and any set pictures mostly under wraps, though there have been some very restricted showings of a teaser trailer or other footage.

The director is the same guy who did Ex Machina. That actually gives me some pause. His aesthetics are solid, but VanderMeer’s book has zero men in it for the vast majority of the text, and I’ve seen the casting list. It is not lacking in men. I’m assuming they are expanding on the timeline prior to the scientist entering Area X, which could be good or bad, depending on whether it swamps her character. I’m a little worried about the adaptation for that reason. Check out the IMDB link for more information about the project.

Wonder Woman – Released June 2nd

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So who hasn’t been waiting for Wonder Woman? This movie has been running trailers and promotional material for a while now, and you can tell that DC pulled out a lot of stops for it. They should. Wonder Woman is arguably their most iconic character after Superman and Batman, and before for many. In contrast to Marvel’s line-up, she is also a singularly iconic woman. This will be the first superhero movie to focus entirely on a female character, and DC beat Marvel to the punch (no surprise, since Marvel seems set on making mistake after mistake in this regard). Check out the IMDB link for more information.

I’ve been planning to rush the theater for this one, and I doubt I will be alone.

Atomic Blonde – Released July 28th

Holy shit, this move. Here’s the IMDB link if you haven’t heard of it. Take a minute to watch the trailer. I’ll wait.

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Really, what is there not to love about this? It’s all of the action packed, grungy goodness of a hardcore spy movie, with the kickass feminine lead from Fury Road. You have my money, sirs and madames.

The Dark Tower – Released August 4th

So I honestly didn’t realize that this was coming so soon until this lovely trailer came out. Holy mess, it looks good. The Dark Tower series is a sort of hit-or-miss thing for me, actually – I thought it ended up getting wrapped around itself somehow, if that makes sense, and ending was not my favorite. But The Gunslinger was an amazing book, and I’m excited to see what they will do with the story, as it looks…very different from the one I remember.

Hitman’s Bodyguard – Released August 18th

I have to admit that this movie is not my usual cup of tea. I wasn’t a huge fan of Deadpool, actually. I thought it was fun, and the graphics were obviously spot on, but it just didn’t quite click with me. That said, Ryan Reynolds is a fun actor, and he definitely brought life to Deadpool’s character with some trademark witticism that seems evident in this move. Plus there are lots of guns. If the trailer doesn’t make you laugh, well, we have different senses of humor, probably. IMDB link on the click-through.

Blade Runner 2049 – Released October 6th

Holy shit, guys, there is a new Blade Runner movie and the trailer is out! Harrison Ford is always a good bet for these kinds of movies, but Ryan Gosling joins him, which I am way into. The director is also the guy who did Arrival which is one of my favorite movies cinematically of the past year.

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Basically if you are a fan of cerebral science fiction, this is the movie you are looking forward to this year (well, in addition to Annihilation, but it’s hard to look forward to something we don’t even have a trailer for, yet). Check out the IMDB page here for more info.

Thor: Ragnarok – Released November 3rd

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So Thor. Thor is the hottest Avenger, probably. And his hair is part of that for me. Now they have chopped all of his hair off. I find myself…not dismayed? He is still really sexy? Alright, then.

Other positives to this movie: Hulk cameo, gladiator fights, and CATE BLANCHETT. She is my favorite. IMDB link and video link for those who live in a hole and haven’t seen the trailer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Released December 15th

You had to know this movie would be on the list. I am solidly in the Star Wars fandom, and I am so, absolutely ready for this movie. Rogue One was a great appetizer, of course. I had some problems with the Leia cameo, which was goofy and too on the nose. But overall, it was lovely. I hope that they will bring some of that creative energy into this new film.

I also have to pause here and note that The Last Jedi was Carrie Fisher’s last movie. I desperately want it to be good and tie up her character well. There are a lot of hopes riding on this film for me, and it almost feels scary leading up to it, but the teaser trailer looks pretty good so far.

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That’s all for me! Let me know what movies you’re looking forward to. Next time I post, I’ll be married and talking all about marriage things!

 

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