natalie-portman-annihilation-natalie-portman-1280pxThe Equipment

Annihilation was viewed on a 65” Samsung SUHD 4k/HDR TV sourced from a Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player. Dynamic contrast was set to medium, colors natural, and Picture Mode on “Film” as we always suggest. Audio system is Dolby Atmos-supporting 7.1.1 channel Samsung T500 sound bar.

The Movie

The film starts off slow as do many sci-fi films that build up to a main event or events. Personally, I like a sci-fi film that jumps right into the action like Mad Max or Pitch Black. However, Annihilation is classified (at least on IMDB) as a horror drama rather than science fiction so maybe asking for more action is fruitless. Let’s just call this a psychological thriller which it really is, recalling films such as Jacob’s Ladder, Requiem for a Dream, and Inception.

There are lots of flashbacks in Annihilation as opposed to a more linear experience which probably keeps the film more interesting but loses some of its “adventure” qualities as new experiences are often interrupted by titles or scene breaks. This is in contrast to films like Apocalypse Now that take viewers on a shared journey. No matter, the editors tied the ends together nicely and without giving much away the film’s plot (and that of the alien being) was suspenseful until the end.

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In terms of acting it’s a decent performance by Natalie Portman although it feels like we’ve seen her character before in other films of the same genre. Benedict Wong is good as the lead medical investigator Lomax but we never see him outside of his protective suit. Oscar Isaac gives one of the better performances as the emotionally-spent Kane, compared to somewhat flat performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriquez and others in the film.

Annihilation was written and directed by Alex Garland, so if you are familiar with Ex Machina it’s easy to see his influence both in writing, directing, and on the pace and sequencing of the film.

The Picture

Annihilation on Ultra HD Blu-ray does look flat in many scenes especially in the interior shots. There is a wide range of mid-tones rather than expansive areas of deep black or bright whites. There is depth in the details though, and in images of the forest and ocean shore we find so much detail you can pause the screen and just admire the shots.

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Annihilation opens with a beautiful view of the Earth and the lighthouse (supposedly the source of the “Shimmer”) that really shows off the depth of color and detail in a 4k HDR image. But then it quickly moves to dullness.

Opening scenes of Lena (Natalie Portman) teaching at Johns Hopkins university are pretty flat, even with HDR enabled and Samsung’s “Cinema Black” turned on (which is supposed to give more dramatic black levels).

If you like contrast, which this disc presentation doesn’t seem to have much of, feel free to boost it in the TV settings. You can also blow out the colors on this disc as the source isn’t particularly saturated. When viewed in 720p or 1080p from a traditional TV service provider the film probably seems more hyperreal, but viewing in “Film Mode” from an Ultra HD Blu-ray resulted in flat imagery.

The Audio

The Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Annihilation provides audio in immersive Dolby Atmos as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 in French and Spanish. To hear Dolby Atmos make sure your Blu-ray player bitstreams out and turn off any other secondary audio.

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One of the highlights of the movie, both in sound and picture is when Lena is walking by the ocean through a forest of crystal structures. The color range is particularly striking and the mix of ambient sound effects and soundtrack is hypnotizing.

The soundtrack to Annihilation is a great listen on its own, but mixed with video creates some intense scenes that may have you turning down the volume a couple notches.

The Extras

There are extensive extras included in the Blu-ray editions of Annihilation that are presented only in 1080p. Those include Refractions, For Those That Follow, Shimmer, Vanished Into Havoc, and more. The bonus material takes you through location shooting, visual and special effects, casting and story origins.

Digital Copy

As well as a copy on Blu-ray Disc the 2-disc edition of Annihilation also provides a digital copy. However, choose carefully which vendor you want to redeem from. The insert gives an option to get an UltraViolet or iTunes Digital Copy. The Digital Copy from iTunes does not transfer to other vendors, so, for now you’ll be stuck with watching on Apple devices. The UltraViolet allows you to watch on partnering services such as FandangoNow and Vudu. Read a more in-depth article on redeeming Annihilation digital copies.

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Summary

Sci-fi geeks who love a good psychological thriller that keeps you guessing will enjoy Annihilation — maybe once, maybe twice. But comparing the 4k Blu-ray to Blu-ray really didn’t offer that much of an improvement outside the improved sharpness of the UHD BD. There were a couple of “wow” moments where the HDR added some color depth, but not enough to say this is a remarkable Ultra HD Blu-ray release that is a must upgrade over the standard Blu-ray disc.

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