So I finally was able to go see it, and I have mixed feelings, mostly on the film as an adaptation.
As a film itself, I thought it was a really fun movie, with some absolutely stunning imagery that is unrivaled. The screaming bear, the corpse in the pool, the flowers coming out of her skin, all of these are going to stick in my mind. There were a few cliche moments, particularly in the first act, which I think was almost a superfluous sequence. Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Leigh, I think, don’t perform very well here. Isaac I feel kind of hammed up his spaciness, when he was in that mood (his bits where he was just a normal guy were good) but Leigh never seemed real (though people have said it was probably a directorial choice), especially compared to the other actors, specifically Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, who were pretty fantastic. Pretty much everyone chewed the scenery a little at some point, but it can be appropriate. All in all though, I thought it was a smart, well produced film that was thoroughly entertaining.
But as an adaptation, I think a lot of nuance was lost in the narrative. There’s a lot of little changes as concessions to make it more accessible, which is fine, but the major changes to the overall arc kind of bothered me. For those who haven’t experienced both, one does not spoil the other. The stories are radically different; the only thing in common is honestly the set-up. After they pass beyond the border of Area X, the story changes entirely, almost nothing is shared with the book. I liked this as a film-goer, because I was genuinely surprised and along for the ride. I genuinely do think, though, that the best parts of the film (the brilliant and disturbing imagery and dilemmas) could have coexisted with the original narrative. I genuinely missed “Where lies the strangling fruit…” and the tower (tunnel?), and the reveal of the lighthouse keeper underneath it, and the bizarre mind games played regarding hypnosis (which may be a slightly inaccurate depiction, but…). We do get the games of distrust and confusion, yes, but not nearly on the same level of the novel, which was, to me, central to the narrative at play. I also was quite irked by the ending. Not the denoument, but before she leaves. The fact that the biologist was able to “annihilate” Area X and leave, just, doesn’t fit the themes of being powerless, being in awe, and relating with nature. It’s, in my view, fundamentally opposed to the themes of the narrative.
Even the title “Annihilation” represents something different. In the book, “Annihilation” was a cry using a post-hypnotic trigger (it wouldn’t work in real life but let me stop being pedantic) from the psychologist. In the film, “Annihilation” was the cry of the psychologist of the inevitable spread of the Area. This is representative to me of a fundamental difference between the themes of these pieces. Annihilation, the book, is about people hurting other people under nature’s reign. Annihilation, the film, is about an extraterrestrial nature hurting people while other people watch. In my opinion, the book tells us all our goals and plans are futile and meaningless when in the shadow of the march of nature itself. The film tells us the opposite; that nature is our ambivalent adversary that spreads both perniciously and overtly. I think these themes on the surface aren’t diametrically opposed, but, to me, result in a massively different tone, feeling and narrative.
So, I liked it. I like the book more, but I still think it’s a good film, even if a questionable adaptation. If I think of them as separate stories, I am more comfortable with it.