Annihilation: A Movie Review

Okay, so I know I said in my last post that I wasn’t decided yet on whether I would watch the Annihilation movie, but seeing as it was readily available on Netflix, I thought, what the heck, I might as well, right?

It’s very rare that I post movie reviews on here.  As a matter of fact, this might be the first.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like watching movies – I do, and I used to watch quite a bit, back in the day, but it’s true that I don’t watch all that much anymore.  But even when I used to watch a ton of movies, I never really quite got the urge to review it afterwards; not in the way that I want to review books after I’ve read them.  Is that weird?  Sometimes I think that if you’re a “reviewer,” you’d tend to want to review most of the things you experience, like reading a book or watching a movie, or a play, etc.

But I digress….

(Possibly some spoilers beyond this point…read at your own risk)

Anyway, so the Annihilation movie….yeah…it was…different – quite different from the novel, but it helped me envision a lot of the concepts and ideas presented in the book, like the strangeness of Area X, and the “brightness” that the biologist referred to, which I think was what the movie referred to as “the shimmer.”  But that’s not to say that the movie wasn’t as weird, if not weirder than the novel at times.  There were a lot of differences too, of course; small differences that wouldn’t have mattered, and also big differences that kind of changed the tone and mood of the story.

The movie stars Natalie Portman as the biologist, but in the movie she actually had a name, Lena.  The other 4 women (there were 5 of them in the movie) also had names, and their professions were a bit different from the book characters; the psychologist, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, was called Dr. Ventress; there was Anya, (Gina Rodriguez) a paramedic, Cass (Tuva Novotny),  a geomorphologist, and Josie (Tessa Thompson), a physicist.  I guess the director deemed that the original professions, anthropologist, and surveyor would be too boring on screen.

In the movie, Lena, a biology professor at Johns Hopkins gets the shock of her life when her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), shows up at her house out-of-the-blue.  Kane, a solider, had been sent by the military to an unknown destination and had been gone for about a year.  He never told Lena where he was going, but the truth was, he was going into the mysterious area known as the Shimmer.  When Kane comes back, he is strange and aloof, with no recollection whatsoever of where he went, what he did there, or how he got back.  A bit after returning home, Kane feels sick, and while on their way to the hospital (he had been coughing up a lot of blood by then), their ambulance was waylaid by military vehicles.  Lena and her husband were brought to an unknown destination, where he is given medical attention and put under observation, and Lena is briefed by the psychologist, Dr. Ventress about Kane and about The Shimmer.  In the movie, Area X was what they called the area where the Southern Reach agency had set up their offices, right outside the border of the mysterious area, dubbed the Shimmer because its entrance was covered in  colorful lights, kind of like the effect of oil on water.  While at Area X, Lena meets the the other three women chosen to enter Area X with Dr. Ventress and Lena volunteers to go with them in order to learn about what really happened to her husband.

Inside the Shimmer, the film tries to give a visual representation of the strangeness prevalent in the area; of the strange animal and plant hybrids, the depictions and images of which translate very well on screen.  Another big difference though, between the novel and the movie is the expedition’s focus once inside the Shimmer, which is to get to the lighthouse, ground zero, where the strange light, the “shimmer” originated from.  In the book, it was the strange underground tunnel/tower, which was more the focus of the plot, though I have a feeling that the lighthouse might play a more important role in the succeeding novels.  The movie made no mention of the tunnel/tower, but instead sort of integrated it with the lighthouse toward the end of the film.  Readers of the book, however, will notice the absence of a very important “character,” in the movie, and the equally important phenomenon the scientists encounter in the tunnel/tower which to me, was one of the main storylines of the novel.

Some of the differences between the novel and the movie, like the names and professions don’t matter much, but what does matter was why Lena volunteered to go into Area X in the first place, which is totally different from the novel, or if it was the same, it wasn’t as explicit.  The role and presence of Lena’s husband in the movie, for me, totally changed the tone of the plot, and especially Lena’s character.  The biologist in the book, I felt, was completely different from Lena in the movie.

The ending of the movie also differed from the novel in a lot of ways, but I have a feeling that the director may have included some truths yet to be revealed in the succeeding novels.  The last scene presented a future scenario which was only implicit in the novel, and points to a possible sequel, which really isn’t surprising, given the fact that it was based off a trilogy.

Overall, the movie was interesting, and the visual effects were chilling, and it did have the same weirdness factor as the novel, but I think I made a mistake of watching it before I had read the second novel, or completed the trilogy.  Watching it, I felt that the movie revealed some information about Area X or Lena, which will be in the succeeding novels.  In fact, the start of the movie, with Lena being interrogated by a Southern Reach agent is somewhat similar to the start of Authority.  By watching the movie already before I had read the entire trilogy, I felt that I may have spoiled the novel for myself a bit – I hope I’m wrong!

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6 thoughts on “Annihilation: A Movie Review

  1. Nice review! I wasn’t aware of the book when I watched the movie and while I liked the visuals and journey it felt like an incomplete film on its own. I guess the changes from book explain a lot of this

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