Back in March at CinemaCon, Paramount screened the first footage from Annihilation, writer-director Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, and I wrote that it looked “absolutely dynamite… a chilling, highly original sci-fi movie bolstered by a fantastic female cast.” Cut to nine months later, and Paramount has sold the film’s international rights to Netflix, which will release Annihilation overseas (with the exception of China) just 17 days after its North American release.
While this may be a smart business deal for all parties — Paramount, its financing partner Skydance Media and, especially, Netflix — the one party that seems like it’s going to get the short end of the stick is, possibly, the audience. If you’ll recall our coverage of Megan Colligan’s exit from Paramount last month, there was a line about how the buzz surrounding Annihilation had turned sour. That was based, in part, on a report from one of the Tracking Board’s spies who attended a test screening and came away more than a little confused and disappointed.
And now, the Hollywood Reporter has shed light on the situation and explained the potential cause of that confusion — a fundamental disagreement between producers Scott Rudin and David Ellison over what the film should be. Ellison is pushing to make the film less complicated (THR used the word “intellectual”) and more commercial (i.e. a happy ending), while Rudin is in Garland’s corner, supporting his more cerebral approach to the sci-fi story. And while the $55 million budget is partially funded by Ellison, it’s Rudin’s opinion that really matters, since his deal affords him final cut.
While I can’t say that Rudin has ever treated me fairly as a reporter, I’m inclined to take his side on this one, mainly because I respect his taste, whereas Ellison still has a lot to prove in that regard. Having said that, I respect the fact that Ellison, likely recognizing he’s fighting a losing battle against Rudin, preferred to limit his exposure and sell international rights to Netflix, since it’s his money at stake and Skydance can’t really afford another global flop after Geostorm. Thanks to Netflix, Rudin and Garland get to release their version of the film, Ellison doesn’t lose his shirt, and Paramount doesn’t have to devote the time and resources of its marketing department to a movie greenlit by a prior regime. So in the end, everybody wins. Everybody, that is, except for the audience, since I’m not picking up on a plan to whip this film into shape. It sounds like right now, the film is what it is, and people will either like it or they won’t, for better or worse.
Listen, I haven’t seen the rough cut of Annihilation that was tested this summer, so I don’t know if the film can be saved, let alone how. All I know is, I really liked what I saw at CinemaCon and I still hold out hope, not just because I have faith in Garland, but because I love the cast — Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
It’d be great to see Annihilation succeed because we need more like it, but Paramount (and now Netflix) have to be proactive, because once word starts to spread that a movie may be a stinker, it’s hard to overcome that. The studio can start by allowing the CinemaCon footage, which was heavy on Oscar Isaac, to see the light of day, especially with Star Wars: The Last Jedi thrusting him back into the spotlight. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess how this film will turn out.
Based on the acclaimed book by author Jeff VanderMeer, which is part of a trilogy, Annihilation is a post-apocalyptic film that sees Portman leading an expedition into a dangerous territory in search of her missing husband (Isaac). The film is slated for release on Feb. 23, 2018.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief