Review – Padme Helps Poe Out (“Annihilation”)

An all-female Ghostbusters? An all-female Oceans Eight? An all-female Lord of the Flies? Welcome to the new agenda of women-empowered media; the new norm. This sci-fi movie features a squadron of female soldiers up against some alien force from another world. Where are the guys, you ask? Good question!

Based on Jeff VanDerMeers’ novel, this sci-fi odyssey has the Earth facing yet another alien threat. Little green men from outer space? Nope. Killer Klowns? Uh-uh. An interstellar spore smashes into an East Coast lighthouse and, well, things haven’t quite been the same since. These mutating thingamabobs have taken over a portion of a coastline with a shimmering alien border (called ‘the Shimmer”) that once you go in, you don’t come out. Sorta like going through the Stargate, but you’re still on Earth… sorta. Inside the Shimmer, everything’s been either mutated or altered and the military is worried because the Shimmer is growing larger every month.

There’s a surprise reappearance by a confused and very sick Kane (Oscar Issac), a soldier that vanished inside the Shimmer a year ago, which prompts his brilliant biologist wife, Lena (Natalie Portman) to take steps to find out how her husband returned. Having Army training, Lena joins the military on yet another expedition into the Shimmer and locating ground zero–the lighthouse. The heavily armed all-female team includes: leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), physicist Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), doctor Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and soldier Josie Radek (Gina Rodriguez).

But this ain’t no pajama party as the team goes inside the lush and tropical Shimmer’s world where compasses don’t work, time fluctuates, and the alien spores have taken every living thing and used their DNA to alter it into something new (a gator/shark hybrid anyone?). Now, being that this one of those kind of movies, you know that along the way to the lighthouse the ladies are going to face peril after peril, personal crisis after crisis, discover harrowing clues along the way and, well I’ll just say it, not everyone is gonna come out of this little expedition alive, okay?

Writer/director Alex Garland, who blew audiences away in 2015 with his spell-binding Ex Machina (which he also wrote & directed), strives to repeat his eerie and thought-ripping success again, but falls short. Whereas Ex Machina was all his, this adaptation isn’t. You can see Garland’s hand in every frame: the beautiful cinematography by Rob Hardy, the ping-ponging scenes, the extreme close-ups, his choice of moody, creepy, and unfocused scenes, and a loud thrommmmmmming soundtrack. All this is cool to look at, but it can’t mask the fact the movie plods along at snail’s pace, waiting for something to happen.

The story is borrowed from several others (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Oblivion, Mantango), so the plot isn’t anything new, especially the Twilight Zone-ish finale. Garland, noted for his character studies and how he plays with them, draws it out for long stretches, often with dull dialogue and long walks, peppered with grisly and gruesome shock value jump scares, just to mix things up. At almost two hours, it could have used some trimming, not to mention removing all those gaping plot holes!! Portman does what she can with the source material, and does quite well, given the circumstances.

Feasibility Study (1997)
(the new Outer Limits, S3, Ep. 17)
Remade from the original 1964 Outer Limits episode entitled, A Feasibility Study, this story starts off with your typical upper-class rebellious girl wanting to run away with a leather-jacketed motorcycle boy from ‘across the tracks’ that daddy doesn’t approve of. But this is the Outer Limits, so something very wrong and very sinister is about to go wrong quickly.
And wrong is goes when an intergalactic race of aliens (called the Triunes) snatch a huge chunk of this privately-gated community neighborhood and forest and teleport them to their planet where, it seems, they did the same thing to other species as well. Apparently, they want to see which other alien race can best survive in their atmosphere. But why? A weird shimmering barrier encompasses the neighborhood, so there’s no escape… except if you’re sucked onto a Triune probing platform, and believe me, you do NOT want that to happen!
The rebellious young girl, Sarah Hayward (Laura Harris), decides to run away from her disapproving father, Joshua (David McCallum), but runs into Adrielo (Zachary Ansley), a disfigured teenage alien from another planet who escaped through a gap in the barrier. He and his people were also hijacked by the Triunes, but contracted a disease that slowly turned them into stone, rendering their species incompatible. But just as Joshua learns the Triunes plan on enslaving the entire human race (if they survive this brief study period), Sarah accidentally contracts the same “stone” disease from Adrielo!
Making the ultimate sacrifice, the entire neighborhood agrees to contract the disease, showing the Triunes that Earth is ‘infeasible’ for slavery. I’ll be honest, although the original black & white 1964 episode was far more creepier and atmospheric, this one was easier (free) to find online to watch. If you want to see the original, you’ll have to buy the original Outer Limits DVD box set, or rent it on Hulu. Just like The Twilight Zone, the original shows were far superior in script quality, direction, and acting those hackneyed attempts at resurrecting them back in 1997.
McCallum, who starred in two original Outer Limits episodes, is the only decent actor in this remake, a real a shame since there are only a handful of these 1995-2002 shows that showed any promise, much like that lousy Twilight Zone reboot of 1985, which had only one or two good episodes. The acting here is generally poor, it’s shot on video, so the production quality looks cheap and high-schoolish, and let’s not get into how bad the scripts is. Suffice to say, this remake wasn’t good at all, as are most remakes. Stick to the original, people, you can’t go wrong with the original.     

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