Culture Crash 18-11: Adapting a Book into a Movie: Annihilation

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Adapting a book into a movie can be tricky. The Lord of the Rings movies were praised for how faithful they were, but Peter Jackson’s subsequent Hobbit trilogy was criticized for stretching its source material too thin. The Harry Potter movies are beloved, but can never quite capture the magic of the books, in part because of the condensing that needed to take place to turn long books into palatable movies.

But few adaptations go the route of Annihilation, a sci-fi adventure/horror movie currently in theaters. The movie was written and directed by Alex Garland and is based on the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.

Garland has gone on the record explaining that he wrote the script after having read the source book one time and didn’t bother to try to adapt it page-by-page. And readers of the book can understand that decision- Annihilation is an ethereal stream-of-consciousness type of book that may defy adaptation.

So the end result is a movie and book experience that are wildly individual experiences. The basic architecture remains the same- an inexplicable force of nature is consuming a swampy area and a group of explorers head in to discover what is happening, and why. But the characters motivations, decisions, and even the nature of the land they are exploring are fundamentally different things.

The debate has been raging about how successful the movie version is, and ultimately, it depends on what you want from an adaptation. For me, the movie actually elevates the material, Garland has given us new backstories, and tweaked the story to examine the nature of change and human nature. The movie gives audience a lot to think about…and it gives us this cool new musical cue:

Sometimes, we just want to see a beloved story play out exactly as we imagined. But with Annihilation, an abstract story that defies easy explanation, a departure from the source material feels just right.
Annihilation the book is available online and in stores now, Annihilation the movie is currently in theaters.

I’m Evan Rook.

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