Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland on filming Annihilation, practical effects and more

Natalie Portman in Annihilation

Natalie Portman in Annihilation

The answer is "Annihilation", another engrossing work of sci-fi, if one ultimately not as compelling as its predecessor.

While reportedly taking giant left turns from its source material, there's still something admirably uncompromising about Annihilation. Tarkovsky benefitted far more from powers of suggestion than Garland even attempts (this film stages an explicit, uncut digital video sequence that might leave you feeling sick and used). Yet, in spite of that, this is a wonderful adaptation. While exploring the luscious green forests, the crew come across a series of flowers with the science-defying catch that they are all different types blossoming from the same singular cell. Garland takes those bones and throws meat on in proportions.

As moviegoers unfamiliar with VanderMeer's work prepare to encounter Annihilation's wonderful and so-very-weird world - one in which a group of scientists encounter all manner of mutations inside the mysterious quarantine zone called "Area X" - the novelist spoke with The Globe and Mail over the phone about the expectations of adaptations and genre. The book does well as a self-contained story, even though VanderMeer wrote and released all three volumes across the span of 2014 alone, meaning that it was never meant to be a standalone tale.

So in other words, no one is actively working on a sequel right now and Alex Garland has no interest in one. And a little of the big climax goes a long way; there's a feel, by its conclusion, that if they paid for all of those effects, damnit they were going to use them all. Studios usually will pinch every penny they can. I want once again to be a prophet.

It's killed everyone except for the husband of Natalie Portman's character, played by Oscar Isaac. The associate protests, reminding her it has been a year since her husband's disappearance, but she remains firm in her desire to be alone. Then he returns, seemingly changed. And then the government intercepts their ambulance en route to a hospital. That meant he'd often have to jump out of his X-Wing as Poe Dameron, take off his blaster, and run across Pinewood Studios, tussle his hair, change into some camo trousers and be Kane, the only guy who's ever come back from the mysterious Area X. The two projects couldn't have been more different but that sense of dislocation actually helped the Guatemalan-Cuban-American actor get in character as he re-teamed with his Ex-Machina director.

Portman is a strident, fiercely compelling presence, investing us in both her mission and her interlinked marriage (flashbacks to her relationship with Isaac are surprisingly sweet, witty and sexy), providing an emotional center without the need for sentimentality. It is her objective. They're reportedly reeling from a poor test screening last summer, after which co-financier David Ellison expressed concerns that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated", and y'know, his company made Geostorm and Terminator: Genysis, so he knows when things are too intellectual and complicated. The film is a slow crawl creep show. As guinea pigs? Sure, but it's still a tad unbelievable.

Bitterly cold weather forecast for Tipperary over the next week
For the rest of the week, temperatures will remain cold but will rise above freezing for the rest of the week. The Met Office have taken the rare step of issuing a snow warning for Northamptonshire for two days in a row.

Garland chooses to focus on the surreal and alien nature of the environment under the shimmer, the barrier that separates "Area X" from the world. And, much as in Ex Machina, the realism created for these impossible and fantastical elements is a sight to see and to admire.

This film, quite frankly, is kind of fantastic. It is hyperrealism and it holds nothing back in its delivery.

Even Garland seems bored with this introductory section; interspersing an interrogation of Lena after she emerges seemingly unscathed from the Shimmer.

Writer/director Alex Garland has been writing smart, well-received sci-fi films for years, including 28 Days Later...

Also referenced: the book of Genesis, which gives shape and shading to Garland's final images, consistent with his favorite theme. The dialogue can be stilted and sometimes hokey, in that particularly sci-fi way; characters aren't so much developed as sketched for utility. Alex was very kind to talk with me and bounce ideas off of me, but my role was to be affirmative, to give him the freedom to pursue his vision.

But really what happened was, I read the book. You'll be scared and baffled in equal measure, which is more than enough to recommend this whacked-out trip.

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