Friday, May 25, 2018

ANNIHILATION (2018) (4K UltraHD+Blu-ray+Digotal Review)

Label: Paramount Pictures 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 115 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Alex Garland 
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Sonoya Mizuno 

I was thoroughly  impressed with director Alex Garland's debut film, the A.I. tale Ex Machina (2015), and I was excited to see what he would bring us next. He was already a talented sci-fi screenwriter before Ex Machina with films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine to his name, but his directorial debut was both electrifying and stunning. With his sophomore bit of direction he gets to play in a larger sandbox with the story of a meteor impacting the Earth on the coast of Florida, it strikes a lighthouse which become ground zero for a strange phenomena dubbed the "shimmer", a multi-colored translucent curtain that envelopes the area around the lighthouse, slowly expanding deeper into a swamp, threatening to eventually swallow more heavily inhabited areas. The military have quarantined the area and sent in multiple military forces to investigate, but communication is lost once the men enter the shimmer and the men never reappear, save for one. After having disappeared for over a year on a secretive military mission Army Special Forces soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse) returns home unexpectedly to the surprise of his still grieving wife Lena (Natalie Portman, The Professional), a cellular biologist, who clearly believed him to be dead. 

His startled wife presses him for details about his whereabouts for the past year but he's not forthcoming with any specifics, in fact he seems unable to recollect exactly what happened at all, which upsets her. Soon after arriving he falls ill and begins to bleeds from his nose leading to Lena calling an ambulance, en route to the hospital they are intercepted by military police who take both to a military facility known as Area X and placed in quarantine. There Lena is questioned by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) who interogates her questions about her husband's strange reappearance, in addition to informing her about the "shimmer", explaining that it's an electromagnetic field of alien origins that's been expanding for three years, inside the perimeter plants and animal are transformed in strange ways, animals are hybridized, even humans who enter the shimmer are transformed as well. 

With her husband quickly deteriorating from systemic organ failure cellular biologist Lena joins Ventress on a research mission into the shimmer in hopes of obtaining information that could possibly save her husband's life, or at least give her an understanding of what happened to him. The team consists of physicist Josie Radeck (Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok),  geomorphologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny, Stoned) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez, TV's Jane the Virgin). Once inside the team quickly discover that their communications do not work and they experience a reoccurring loss of time and they cannot seem to get a bearings. Eventually make their way to an abandoned military base where Kane and the previous expedition holed up for a a period of time, there they find a memory card from a video camera which contains video of Kane and the others cutting open one of the soldiers while he's still alive, revealing that his intestines are moving around like the coils of python inside of the man.  

Along the way a sense of hopelessness and dread settle upon the group, they're attacked by a mutated albino alligator with what looks to be the teeth of a shark, and a hideous emaciated looking bear with a harrowing shriek that sounds like it's screaming "help me", mimicking the voice/cries of one of the women who was attacked and carried off by the beast earlier, it's a strange and dread-filled touch, and the attack is brutal. The beast tears the lower jaw off of one of the women in the process, her tongue left hanging from her torn mouth, there's not a lot of gore, but what there is is pretty damn disturbing, just wait till you see what happens to the corpse of the man with the squirming intestines! The group also begins to crumble as the women begin to contemplate what exactly is happening, turning on one another when it is revealed that Lena's husband was part of the earlier expedition, a fact that was known only to Lena and Dr. Ventress but kept from the remainder of the group. 

The film is based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer which I've never read, but it bares more than a passing resemblance to the H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Color Out of Space" which has been adapted many times before (Die Monster Die, The Curse II), it tells the story in flashback (as Annihilation also does) of a meteorite that lands on Earth, transforming the landscape and afflicting the local inhabitants, I'm not saying it rips it off but it certainly is heavily influenced by it in many ways, as I have not read the novel I cannot say if this is something shared by the source material or something brewed into the adaptation.  

Set in the transformed swamps of Florida (but cleverly shot in England) the film balances a familiar setting with a subtle alien transformations, we see strangely hybridized flowers, deer with tree-like antlers, strange fish, and crystalline trees, all set among the dense canopy of moss covered trees drenched in pervasive fog, it's familiar yet alien all at same time. The hybrid creatures and transformed plant life are cool looking, though I would have loved to see more of creatures, but what we do get is pretty great. The film comes to a deeply satisfying discovery/encounter when some of the surviving team finally make their way to the epicenter of the event at the lighthouse that I thought was a real showstopper, with Lena discovering the true fate of her husband in a mind-bending sequence. It's something strange, unknowable and hard to describe, which was a lot of the essence of what Lovecraft wrote about, definitely falling into the category of a slow-burn sci-of tale along the lines of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in that it's a movie that moves along decidedly paced with a stunning visual event that caps it off, but still maintains a lot of it's mystery, and I liked it a lot, I didn't love it, but I've watched it three times this week, and each time I was more and more intrigued by the questions and ideas it posed, not just of alien encounters but of human grief, loss and environmental issues. 
Audio/Video: Annihilation arrives on 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray on this 2-disc set from Paramount Pictures, framed in the theatrical aspect ratio of  2160p HD widescreen (2.39:1). For a science fiction film I will say that visually the movie has a bit of a subdued color palette, there's a lot of lush green swamp canopy punctuated by some muted colors, a lot of it shrouded of fog, but the 4K does offer some crisp visuals with nice clarity, resolving the fog nicely, details of the mutated creatures and plant life which populate the swamp look fantastic.  The effect of the prismatic shimmer which envelops the area has a nice unearthly quality about it, the purples and greens of it have a good intensity in 4K. It looks true to the theatrical but might not be the truly eye-popping 4K UltraHD experience some might be hoping for visually.  

Audio comes by way of both English Dolby Atmos with optional English subtitles, the Atmos track strong and robust, the sounds of the surrounding swamp come to life in the surrounds, and the score from of Ben Salisbury and Portishead's Geoff Barrow (Ex Machina) is nicely atmospheric but also menacing throughout, particularly during the stunning finale which becomes an overwhelming symphony of low-end frequency and dread-making sounds. Everything is razor sharp and crisply delivered, dialogue is never hard to decipher. 

Onto the extras we get three 2-part featurettes which add-up to about 72-minutes in total. These feature contributions from the director, cast, cinematographer and special effects crew members, it goes into adapting the source material, the shooting locations, selecting the cast, creating the digital and practical effects, I found it all very interesting, this is a film that doesn't button up a lot of questions you might have after watching it, and truthfully the extras don't either, but I enjoyed hearing about the process of making the film. 

The 2-disc 4k/Blu-ray release is a Best Buy exclusive for the time being, it comes in a black 4K keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork and a slipcover with the same art. The artwork itself is a standard issue photo-shopped floating head style number that doesn't impress on any level. As a side note, I do wish that they would not print the HDR box directly on the slipcover and the sleeve, what an eyesore!   

Special Features: 
Part 1 Southern Research 
- Refractions (11 min) HD
- For Those That Follow (15 min) HD
Part 2 - Area X
- Shimmer (12 min) HD
- Vanished Into Havoc (15 min) HD
Part 3 - To the Lighthouse
- Unfathomable Mind (12 min) HD
- The Last Phase (8 min) HD

Annihilation (2018) is a science fiction film of the brain-tingling variety, it's not a alien shoot 'em up disguised as science fiction movie, it's a sci-fi film that makes you think, it inspires wonder, and might leave some viewers thoroughly unsatisfied, but it's exploration of environmental and behavioral ideas are interesting. We get some healthy world building and visuals with a healthy dose of Lovecraft-ian other-worldliness made for a great watch. I've watched it three more times this week and each viewing brought a bit more understanding but more questions than answers, but that's the sort of the sci-fi I tend to love. It's a slow-burn that generates wonder not finality, highly recommended for fans of thoughtful sci-fi and Lovecraftian horror.   

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