Fresh on Blu-ray: ‘ANNIHILATION’ and ‘THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING’

Preston Barta // Features Editor

ANNIHILATION

Rated R, 115 minutes.
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie PortmanJennifer Jason LeighTessa ThompsonGina RodriguezTuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac
Available today on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, DVD and Digital HD.

If you need something to wake up your brain after your Memorial Day relaxation coma, why not start with ANNIHILATION?

Filmmaker Alex Garland’s experiment may prove too challenging for crowds looking to see Natalie Portman simply go up against an otherworldly environment, but I believe ANNIHILATION is well worth the effort. It’s a near seamless blend of a thinking-geek’s sci-fi spectacle, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, with the genetic makeup of ALIEN: COVENANT, ARRIVAL and UNDER THE SKIN.

The difference being, where those movies tickled, ANNIHILATION scratches.

The story revolves around an army veteran-turned-biologist named Lena (a very good Portman), who ventures into a dangerous area called “the shimmer,” an Aurora Borealis-like bubble that’s slowly taking over Earth like cancer. It’s up to Lena and a team of biologists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny) to make sense of it and stop it.

Myth, the spiritual dimension, and evolution all surface in the story. Some may be willing to engage in its high-minded concepts, while others may dismiss the film as too smart or strange for its own good. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you if you landed on the too-heady-for-me end of the spectrum. Watching Garland’s film (who also directed 2015’s EX MACHINA), my mouth was agape at the sight of its life forms inside the shimmer (a genetically-modified bear is pure nightmare fuel), but others felt the impulse to laugh because of its eccentricity.

ANNIHILATION is a divisive film. Your enjoyment all depends on what you bring to it, what meanings you pick out and how you react to certain plot elements, most notably the final third of the film. I suggest opening your mind to its endless possibilities and interpretations.

Grade: A

Extras: There are five great featurettes that all break down different aspects of the film, including casting, the director’s vision, the sets, the stunts and visual effects.

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING

Rated PG-13, 88 minutes.
Director: Jim Wynorski
Cast: Dick DurockHeather LocklearLouis JourdanSarah DouglasJoey SagalAce MaskMonique Gabrielle and RonReaco Lee
Available today on Blu-ray through the MVD Rewind Collection.

Oddly enough, 1989’s THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING inspired certain scenes in ANNIHILATION. Well, really, Garland points more toward the Alan Moore comic than the film it’s based on. Either way, the two films share similar DNA, but it’s clear the IQ level for Swamp Thing is below average.

This sequel to Wes Craven’s 1982 original SWAMP THING has the audience waist deep in campy goo. When you’re dealing a 7-foot plant man (Dick Durock) who fights people and has the hots for Heather Locklear, you can’t take yourself too seriously — and the movie doesn’t. It has a tone that constantly reminds us to have fun with the material. So when something looks funny, like all the animal-human hybrids that come about (an elephant-man stands out), you’ve just gotta laugh and move on.

Overall, the movie packs in some B-movie battles, along with some captivating monster designs and good comedy. There are also, as surprising as it may sound in something like this, good performances. Although, Locklear plays a damsel in distress at one point, she matches the strength of wit and brains of her male counterparts. In fact, all of the women get more to do than serve male arcs, which is more than you can say for a lot of comic book adaptations these days.

Grade: B

Extras: The MVD Rewind Collection (available through mvdshop.com) is releasing the film ahead of its 30th anniversary. It comes with a one-of-a-kind slipcover (that has a “be kind rewind” sticker to sell a VHS look) and a slew of special features — including new and old audio commentaries, new interviews with the filmmakers, a trailer and TV spots, photo gallery and collectible mini-poster.

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