For his follow up to ‘Ex Machina’, director Alex Garland took on another genre bending science fiction film with a female lead, ‘Annihilation’. The film is based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer (the first of the ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy) and depicts an all-female research team exploring a disaster zone called The Shimmer, where they encounter a variety of monstrously mutated plants and animals. As their expedition continues, the explorers begin to slowly unravel.
Natalie Portman plays the lead, known only as The Biologist. Oscar Isaac plays her spouse, listed only as The Biologist’s Husband. The Biologist is joined in The Shimmer by The Surveyor (Tessa Thompson), The Psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), The Linguist (Tuva Novotny) and The Anthropologist (who has a name, Anya Thorensen, played by Gina Rodriguez). The cast also includes Benedict Wong, David Gyasi and Sonoya Mizuno.
There was apparently some behind-the-scenes conflict. After a poor test screening, executive producer David Ellison suggested that the movie was “too intellectual” and suggested changing the ending and making other alterations to make Portman’s character more likable. Fellow EP Scott Rudin went to bat for Garland, so Paramount struck a deal with Netflix. While, ‘Annihilation’ will be released in theaters in the U.S., Canada and China, it will only be made available on Netflix everywhere else.
Garland expressed “disappointment” over this decision, stating:
“We made the film for cinema. I’ve got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I’ve seen in a long time was The Handmaid’s Tale, so I think there’s incredible potential within that context, but if you’re doing that – you make it for that [medium] and you think of it in those terms. Look… it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I’m really pleased about. One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don’t have that strange opening weekend thing where you’re wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don’t, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So it’s got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen.”
Check out the trailer for the film below:
As you can see, ‘Annihilation’ has some amazing visuals which would be a feast to behold on the big screen. But from the sound of things, the actual film is not something that would appeal to mainstream audiences. While Portman, Leigh and now Thompson (thanks to ‘Thor: Ragnarok’) are recognizable names, none is a true draw. They wouldn’t be enough to put butts in theater seats. To release the film in theaters worldwide would cost Paramount millions. But it’s clear they smell a flop here. It may be best from a business standpoint to go the Netflix route. Were the film to come out in theaters and flop, it would have to overcome that stigma. Going straight to streaming would sidestep that.
What do you think? Is it unfair to Garland and the others who worked on this film that it won’t get the big screen treatment worldwide? Or is this a wiser business move?