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Dissecting Writer Alex Garland!

04.14.2015by: Jake Dee

WRITER/DIRECTOR ALEX GARLAND!

Ever since penning his first novel THE BEACH in 1996, UK scribe Alex Garland has become quite the player in the Hollywood genre realm. Instantly striking a fecund working relationship with THE BEACH director, Danny Boyle, Garland has collaborated with his English compatriot three times now, including wildly disparate 2002 and 2007 flicks 28 DAYS LATER... and SUNSHINE. But that's not all Garland has done in his 15 year career in pictures. Dude not only saw his 1998 novel THE TESSERACT adapted by famed Chinese director Oxide Pang, he also adapted the touching sci-fi romance NEVER LET ME GO, and, despite the box-office numbers, pumped new life into the character of DREDD in 2012. Now, as his directorial debut EX MACHINA looks to expand into more theaters this weekend, we can no longer wait. Ladies, gents...we now lay Alex Garland under the hot-lamp and let him taste the blade. It's Dissection time!

BEST WORK

Get 28 DAYS LATER & 28 WEEKS LATER Here

Even if it weren't the most AITH pertinent, which it is by far, I truly believe 28 DAYS LATER... still holds as Garland's crowning achievement to date. Marking the sophomore collaboration with world-class director Danny Boyle, it is not a gross overstatement to posit that 28 DAYS LATER... almost single lungedly breathed new life into the all but moribund zombie subgenre. Think about it. Not only did the flick come out of nowhere to completely flip zombie convention and offer us a rabid, mouth-spuming, hyper-paced and quick-lunging monster - utterly antithetical to over 3 decades of lagging, wobbly, semi-ambulatory slowpokes - the movie also began a newfound viral infection subset within the history of cinematic zombie lore...a trend that persists today. In our eyes, 28 DAYS LATER... is an absolute game-changer!

Not only did 28 DAYS LATER... more or less rewrite the zombie rulebook, it also, thanks to Garland's script, shifted into a far more sobering tone. Consider another zombie-virus film from the same year, RESIDENT EVIL. That flick, albeit based on a videogame, played as a far more conventional and silly zombie action diversion. But 28 DAYS LATER... treated the material as seriously as any human would in a real life situation. I transcends horror and becomes something else entirely...sort of like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMB does...where the horror serves less as a thrilling foil and more of an integral plot backdrop. Two years later and what do we get? No, not 28 WEEKS LATER...that came five years after. I'm talking about the highly entertaining DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, which clearly cribbed the whole fast-and-frenzied zombie model from Alex Garland's pen and popularized it even further.

WORST (PERFORMING) WORK

Get DREDD Here

Let me very clear upfront. I dug the hell out of DREDD, I really did. It's simply that, when you consider what a monumental financial hit the flick suffered, earning a measly $6 million against a $50 million budget on its opening weekend in 2012, yeah, there's not much else to say. DREDD performed dreadfully, and not through no fault of his own, Garland must wear it as if it were. After-all, not many people were clamoring for a sequel/prequel to a wildly asinine Sly Stallone flick from 1995. Now, I realize that Garland and director Pete Travis opted to hark back to the original blueprint, the British comic in which the character first appeared, but still, perhaps Garland's pet-project indulgence underestimated audience demand, if not interest.

So again, not so much his worst work as much as his least successful...financially speaking. But that in no way detracts from what is still a highly entertaining and brutally violent action spectacle. DREDD is that and more, primarily due to Garland's far more austere tone than the Sly flick, as well as the starring turn of the ass-kicking Karl Urban. These dudes acquit themselves just fine, it's VANTAGE POINT director Pete Travis that, in my mind, is the weakest link. Hell, instead of EXPENDABLES 2, maybe Stallone himself should have directed DREDD. My guess is his name alone would attract far more eyes than a dude (Travis) with only two features under his belt at the time. Ah, but hindsight is 20-20.

TRADEMARKS

Get THE BEACH Here

Well, aside from firmly branding his own name deeply into the sci-fi and horror realms, I can think of two constants in old Alex's resume. First off, he's a novelist able to adapt his own books into screenplays. Sounds easy right, well it ain't. Learning how to trim the fat and excise beloved passages of flowery text is an absolute must when adapting a novel into a script. You're boiling it down to the absolute essentials of the story, and try to truncate the prolix into nonverbal images. And that Mr. Garland has done admirably. Not just with his own novels (he only adapted THE BEACH, not THE COMA or THE TESSERACT), but with Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO as well. He's also written original scripts from scratch, as he's done with 28 DAYS LATER... and SUNSHINE.

And that brings me to the second through-line in Garland's work. His collaborations with English director Danny Boyle. The partnership began in 2000 with the aforementioned BEACH (which I actually like more than most), and carried on through both 28 DAYS LATER... in 2002 and and SUNSHINE in 2007. The two have sort of gone their separate ways since, but in his still young and burgeoning career, Boyle is so far the most repeated collaborator of Garland's. That said, watch out for such a relationship to be eclipsed by Domnhall Gleeson, who, after Garland worked with and ostensibly formed a relationship with papa Brendan in 28 WEEKS LATER... landed starring roles in both NEVER LET ME GO and EX MACHINA.

HIDDEN GEMS

Get SUNSHINE Here

Despite the brief filmography, we've excavated a pair of gemstones among Garland's work: one original and one adaptation. The first is coolly premised SUNSHINE (or hotly, I guess), which marks the third and final collaboration between Garland and Boyle. And the other is the oddly touching existential sci-fi flick NEVER LET ME GO, which Alex adapted from the aforementioned Japanese novel. Let's get into it...

SUNSHINE stars Boyle and Garland regulars Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne, not to mention Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans and Mark Strong. And even with a pretty bunk ending, it's hard to deny what a thrilling if not fascinating conceit Garland's original screenplay lays out. If you've not seen it, the setup is pretty simple. In the year 2057, the sun is dying and will soon burnout altogether. As such, a crew of astronauts from around the world are sent on a mission to reignite the sun's core. of course, one obstacle after another is encountered, and soon a real ticking clock scenario for the future of human habitation on Earth looms in the balance. Most frightening though is the inevitability. Never in our lifetimes obviously, but the sun will die out eventually, bank on it, and this movie addresses such a topic with realism and respect. Again, the ending needs to serve the mores of a Hollywood thriller, but on the whole, SUNSHINE is a thinking man's sci-fi opus that everyone needs to see at least once.

Get NEVER LET ME GO Here

Frankly, so too does NEVER LET ME GO. Not quite in the AITH mold, granted, but if you're a true Garland completist, go out and peep it. Hard to describe, director Mark Romanek (ONE HOUR PHOTO) weaves a borderline sappy love tale between three boarding school students (Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield) into a quite a gripping tale of sci-fi mystery. I want to expound in greater detail, but at the risk of spoiling the goods, I'll refrain. Trust us when we say that NEVER LET ME GO is a very good movie, and unlike any movie Garland has done before.

NEXT PROJECT

In theaters for only a few days now is EX MACHINA, Garland's long-awaited directorial debut. Of course, as a career scribe, he wisely penned his own screenplay here as well. The sci-fi thriller, which takes a serious if haunting look at the state of artificial intelligence, has largely won critics over, including our very own E.Walk (read his review HERE). The intriguing logline for EX MACHINA is as follows:

Caleb, a 26 year old coder at the world's largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world's first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl.

Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno and Corey Johnson all star in the flick. Go see it!

In addition to adapting the videogame HALO into a script, Garland has announced an unrelated potential follow-up to EX MACHINA, which he's loosely attached to direct as well. It's a sci-fi thriller called ANNIHILATION, which currently boasts a single logline to go on. Peep it...

Based on the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name - ANNIHILATION picks up when:

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.

Quite vague there, ay? No worries friends, here's a more detailed Wiki plot-crunch of VanderMeer's novel:

Annihilation is a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the first in a series of three books called the Southern Reach Trilogy. The book describes a team of four (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X. The area is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization.[1] They are the 12th expedition. The other expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma.

Sounds pretty hectic, no? I do wonder though if Garland is starting to favor adapting another author's novels over writing originals. This will mark his fourth adaptation since 2007's SUNSHINE, so doing bang-up jobs with both NEVEL LET ME GO (a novel) and DREDD (characters), respectively. We shall see how HALO and ANNIHILATION pan out!

OVERALL

If you hadn't before, hopefully you'll start to take greater notice of one Mr. Alex Garland. He deserves it. Dude is a proven dedicatee of not just visceral and thought-provoking horror/sci-fi fiction, but first and foremost, quality writing. Look no further than original scripts and adaptations (from his own novels and others) including THE BEACH, THE TESSERACT, 28 DAYS LATER, SUNHSINE, NEVER LET ME GO, DREDD, and now, EX MACHINA. Each of those projects are completely different from one another, yet all refract a certain genre tinge we can all appreciate. I know I can. Now that you have our respect if not attention Alex, let's see what you have in store for HALO and ANNIHILATION!

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite Garland piece?
Source: AITH

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