Annihilation ending 'too weird': How mother! cost the film an international theatrical release

The Ex Machina director's daring movie came at a time when gambles were not paying off for Paramount

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 15 March 2018 05:51 GMT
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Annihilation - Teaser Trailer

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Louise Thomas

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Alex Garland's latest sci-fi film, Annihilation, is fairly straightforward for the most part, an adventure into the unknown not all that different an Alien or an Arrival that came before it.

It goes off the deep end in the final act, however, when (spoilers ahead) Natalie Portman's protagonist Lena comes face-to-face with an alien continually mutating itself to appear more and more like her.

The unsettling (and quite brilliant) scene plays out like a piece of modern dance, Lena and the entity mirroring each other's movements, and had the studio behind the film, Paramount, a little worried that it was too 'out there', studio exec David Ellison calling it "too intellectual" and asking for it be reworked so as to be more mainstream-friendly. Garland refused.

"Broadly speaking,” Garland told The Times of the changes Ellison requested, “he said the last third was too weird. The dance sequence was too long.

"‘Can you make the lead character more relatable by removing some self-destructive behaviour?’ [he said], I couldn’t, as it would change the reason the film existed. The dance sequence is fundamental, so to make it into, literally, a punch-up would strip out all meaning.”

The director putting his foot down came after a tough 2017 for Paramount in terms of ambitious cinema, Darren Aronofsky's climate change allegory mother!, George Clooney's race-tinged crime noir Suburbicon and Alexander Payne's Matt Damon-shrinking movie Downsizing being noble commissions but stinging box office flops.

Apparently scared by this, Paramount sold international rights to Netflix, meaning one of the most anticipated films of the year did not get shown in cinemas outside of the US.

“Oh, I understand exactly,” Garland added to The Times of the studio's decision. “It happened because Paramount were reasonably concerned they were going to lose a ton of money, having previously lost a ton of money, and they said they had to stem the flow. I get it. It’s just, from my point of view, a shame.”

He doesn't particularly blame Paramount however, Annihilation's disappointing distribution perhaps owing more to the increasing challenge mid-budget films face in cinemas.

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"I don’t want to paint it that the studio were the textbook bad guys, because it wasn’t like that. The people behind a lot of this are well intentioned. They feel equal frustration to me. This is not an ideal scenario for them in any way, shape or form.”

Annihilation is streaming on Netflix now.

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