After the huge success of “Ex Machina” there were high hopes for what its writer and director Alex Garland might bring to the big-screen next.
The first glimpses of “Annihilation,” his adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, suggested that he had made a visually arresting and deeply original sci-fi horror thriller, which needed to be seen in cinemas to be fully appreciated. This is a viewpoint that has been endorsed by the early online reaction to "Annihilation."
Unfortunately, though, while “Annihilation” will soon hit cinemas in the United States and China, in December it was announced that Paramount had struck a deal with Netflix to release the film online rather than internationally.
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I recently had the opportunity to talk to Alex Garland about this decision, and, as you’d expect, the filmmaker confided he had some rather “complicated feelings about it.”
“It’s got two sides to it,” Garland insisted. “On the one hand, the best filmed drama that I have seen in the past year was ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ And that was made for streaming services and I watched it on TV.”
“It is far from the only example, too. There’s a lot of really, really good stuff coming out on Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, you name it.”
“So in one respect it is cool and amazing that these places are giving people the space to do some really original, provocative and challenging stuff.”
You can probably tell that there is a but coming.
“But on the other hand, the regret for me is that we didn’t make it for the small screen. We made it for the big-screen. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that you would just do differently. You would literally shoot it differently, have a different process, if that’s what you were aiming for.”
“So it has got nothing to do with streaming services. It has got nothing to do with the big screen vs the small screen. It has got to do with the intention that if you are making it for cinema and it doesn’t appear in cinema you regret it. Because that is what you were hoping for and shooting for. So I guess it is conflicted.”
The decision to release “Annihilation” online internationally was reportedly made after a poor test screening. Paramount financier David Ellison was allegedly worried that the film was “too intellectual” and “too complicated,” and asked for the film to be changed for a wider audience.
Producer Scott Rudin, who had final cut on “Annihilation,” sided with Alex Garland. Ellison and Paramount circumvented Rudin, though, and struck the deal with Netflix that will see it released overseas 17 days after “Annihilation” hits US cinemas.
When I asked Garland why such a deal was reached, he declared, “It was done for money. It is Hollywood for f***’s sake. It’s always about money.”
Garland doesn’t want your pity, though, because he is fully aware that getting to make a film of the magnitude of “Annihilation” is a privilege.
“I kind of work with a collective of people again and again and again. And what I will say is me and that group of people are flat out lucky to be able to make our stories.”
“And I kind of feel that if we get the chance our obligation is to work as hard as we can and be as brave as we can while doing it, because we might never get that chance again.”
“So when we are given money to make this stuff it is a privilege. I don’t waste it. I feel lucky because I am lucky. And I do as much as I can with the gift that I have been given.”
You can see Alex Garland working his magic on “Annihilation” when it is released in cinemas on February 23.