If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ decision to let the original storyteller live and breathe throughout If Beale Street Can Talk is a wise one.
"Someone somewhere didn't care if this movie succeeded or failed." Scout Tafoya says this early in his latest edition of his video essay series The Unloved, and given the preponderance of evidence, it's hard to argue with him.
As adapted by writer/director Alex Garland, probably the best filmmaker in the world who deals exclusively in science-fiction, "Annihilation" is a film of ideas and emotions, conceived and executed in the spirit of such classic motion pictures as "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Solaris" (both versions), and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Despite a formidable cast that features Oscar winner Natalie Portman, veteran character actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Star Wars" costar and Internet crush Oscar Isaac, "Jane the Virgin" star Gina Rodriguez and recently-minted Marvel repertory cast member Tessa Thompson, the movie's releasing studio Paramount deemed it uncommercial on the basis of (apparently) test screenings, or perhaps a desire by the incoming president to bury the work of his predecessor—who knows for sure?
In any case, the film was all but dumped during its US release and sold off to Netflix for international rights, a move that put the film in profit (barely) while relieving Paramount of the burden of figuring out a clever way to build interest in a movie that didn't have any obvious hooks. I mean, aside from the fact that it's a haunting, hypnotically powerful film that seems to stir deep introspection in anyone who watches it with an open mind and brings their own point-of-view to the experience. I briefly wrestled with whether or not to give this one the green light because any film as generally beloved by critics as "Annihilation" cannot be said to be "unloved" as a piece of art. But as a commercial property, absolutely, it was unloved—treated with indifference, which is worse in some ways than contempt, because at least the person treating your work with contempt expresses a point of view on it. Ask anyone who's seen "Annihilation" twice, three times or more (I had my fourth viewing recently) and you'll come away thinking, as I did, that Paramount left money on the table. Even after having its commercial legs broken by the studio, the movie remains in release, still playing on a few screens as we publish this, and has managed to make more money in the US alone than Garland's last film, the different-but-equally-superb "Ex Machina," made all over the world.
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