Blu-ray Review: Annihilation

Writer/director Alex Garland has been making waves in the sci-fi scene in Hollywood since 2002, bringing unique ideas to an often cliché-ridden genre, writing films such as 28 Days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. While 28 Days Later… was a commercial success, the rest found their own cult followings that appreciated the intriguing stories being told – or in the case of Dredd, for being a more true-to-the-source adaptation of the beloved comics. The next natural step for Garland was to get behind the camera himself, which he did, bringing to life his masterfully crafted tale of artificial intelligence in the 2015 critically acclaimed Ex Machina.

Ex Machina’s success allowed for Garland to get the studio to back his next film, Annihilation, which he adapted for the screen from the book of the same name, written by Jeff VanderMeer. Now, in the special features found on this disc, Garland says that as the writer/director, he often gets credit for every aspect the film, when in reality it’s often just as much his team (some of whom he’s worked with for decades) that helps come up with ideas to best bring together his visions for the movie he’d like to make. So I will say that Garland and his crew have once again created an absolutely astonishing film, as Annihilation is one of the best science fiction films in recent memory.

I won’t go too much into the plot, as experiencing everything unfolding is part of what makes the film a masterpiece, but I will say that it stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a biologist who still mourns her husband (Oscar Isaac) a year after he vanished, never returning home from a confidential military mission and thought to be dead. That is, until one night when Kane returns out of the blue, only he’s incredibly sick, with organ failure and internal bleeding. To find out what happened to him, Lena joins a small expedition that will enter a mysterious, slowly expanding zone known only as the Shimmer – a place where, until Kane, nobody who entered has ever returned from.

There’s really just so much to love about this movie, as it’s just visually stunning, so simple and yet so complex, superbly acted on all fronts, and engrossing in its storytelling. I honestly couldn’t find a flaw in it, as it’s just so easy to watch and get lost in trying to piece things together, all while having various philosophical questions probe at your brain about life, death, and our very existence.

The film is two hours in length, but it’s paced so well that even upon a second viewing I was surprised how quickly time had passed, finding myself over halfway through when it felt like I’d just scratched the surface. That may not be coming out right, but it’s a compliment to how well the story is told, and how captivating these characters are, all brought to life wonderfully by the five actresses involved.

Portman leads the way, absolutely nailing the intense emotional ups and downs the character of Lena requires, all while coming off as the sturdy shoulder to lean on that the team needs. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the leader of the expedition, Gina Rodriguez plays Anya Thorensen, an anthropologist; Tuva Novotny plays Cass Sheppard, a linguist, and Tessa Thompson, a surveyor. Each woman brings their own strengths to the film, which helps give these five characters their own unique voices, making the film that much more intriguing.

Another exceptional thing to note is the music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. While the film’s story is fantastic, the score helps make it even more mesmerizing. From start to finish, the music of the film is like additional dialogue at times when words aren’t spoken, driving home the emotion of the scene subtly, yet firmly. If you have a surround sound setup in your home, all I can say is you’re in for a treat.

There are things I’d love to mention in this review, but I’ll withhold, knowing that if you’ve yet to experience Annihilation, going in somewhat blind to what’s to come is only beneficial. What Garland and his team have done here is create a brilliant film that’s packed full of emotion, philosophy, terror, contemplation, and beauty. It’s a film that isn’t to be missed, so if you have yet to see it, do yourself a favour and go pick up what is best described as a sci-fi classic that warrants repeat viewings.

This film looks great on Blu-ray, with the transfer being handled wonderfully. This is a film that is keeps its setting as natural as possible, while also often proving itself to be visually stunning, so it’s great to see the proper care was taken to make sure that what was seen in theaters carried over just as strongly to the home. The sound transfer is also magnificent, with the score, dialogue and sound effects all working together in perfect harmony.

Special Features:

There are three parts to the only feature found on the disc, but they’re incredibly in-depth and give a great look at the behind-the-scenes makings of the film.

Part 1: Southern Research – This two parter consists of Refractions and For Those that Follow. Watching them as a whole (the best way to do it) sees the pair come in at just over 26 minutes in length. The first section talks about adapting the book, bringing it to life, the concept art side of it, and various inspirations. The second part focuses more on the characters and actors brought on to play them.

Part 2: Area X – This feature consists of two parts as well, Shimmer and Vanished into Havoc, which hit the 27-minute mark as a pair. The first part looks at where they filmed, how they got the UK to look like a Florida swamp, and various digital aspects that were added in to bring the story to life; while the second part focuses on the special effects and more practical props used to tell the story.

Part 3: To the Lighthouse – These final two parts are the shortest of the bunch, clocking in at just over 19-minutes in length. First up is Unfathomable Mind, which talks more about the science side of the film, creating the shimmer, and what inspired some of the looks within it. Finally, The Last Phase looks at Alex Garland and his crew, and how he speaks about them helping bring the film to life with ideas he’s often credited for. As a whole it’s just great to see such comradery behind the scenes, all of which help make the film that much stronger.

Paramount Pictures Presents Annihilation. Written & Directed By: Alex Garland. Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac. Running time: 115 Minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: May 29, 2018.

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