Please be aware there are minor spoilers for Annihilation below.
Much has been made of the behind-the-scenes conflict that led to Paramount’s unusual release strategy for Annihilation — the film is currently playing in theaters in the US, Canada and China and will drop on Netflix internationally just a few weeks later — but if there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, it’s that the final cut of the film we got is 100% writer-director Alex Garland‘s vision. Despite blowback from higher-ups at the studio, who reportedly wanted to make Natalie Portman‘s character more likable and reshoot the film’s hallucinogenic ending, producer Scott Rudin stayed the course and used his final cut powers to ensure that Garland’s vision was uncompromised.
That means you shouldn’t expect to see much in the way of deleted scenes, but when Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with the filmmaker ahead of Annihilation‘s debut, he learned there’s one major set-piece that didn’t make the cut, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
“There was one sequence that we cut. A whole sequence got cut actually really early in the edit, and that just took like ten minutes off, just like that. But then the rest of it was really just about refining it, zeroing on in the intention in a scene and making it just tight.
The ten-minute sequence wasn’t lopped off to simplify the film for audiences or refine the narrative, but because it just didn’t work once the film was cut together. Portman stars as Lena, a solider-scientist who winds up in a government facility outside the mysterious Area X after her husband returns from a black-ops mission.
It’s not long before Lena herself heads out through The Shimmer and into Area X, but in the original draft of the film, she had a rather different, more action-packed introduction to the phenomenon. Garland explained,
“It’s this weird thing that happens in a script to seeing it, that things make sense sometimes when you’re reading it, but when you watch it, it immediately stops making sense. Essentially what happens in the sequence is that Natalie Portman, quite early on in the film is locked in a sort of chamber where she first meets Dr. Ventress and when Ventress leaves, Natalie’s character Lena is stuck there and she escapes from that chamber and knocks out a guard, takes his gun, shoots her way through a glass door, makes her way through the facility and finally busts out and sees the shimmer for the first time. It created a problem that her character goes from a state of real adversity with this corporation to then being taken on a mission to this place, and it’s a weird U-turn. And actually, it made more sense that she says I want to see this thing, and Ventress says OK and takes her to see it.”
And Garland didn’t even have to reshoot the scene, he was able to pull off the switch with some clever editing.
“We didn’t reshoot anything, amazingly, it’s the kind of stuff that you can achieve in the edit. You use the dialogue, you do a hard cut, you take a little bit of film where she’s walking in her escape but she’s slowed down, she’s not running at that point, she’s walking and you use that bit, you do another hard cut to her stepping out and seeing the shimmer for the first time. Then, the sequence is gone and it makes more logical character sense.”