Where To Start With…. Alex Garland
Alex Garland is a true all-rounder. He began life as a novelist, publishing his first book when he was just 26, before going to write two more, each a bestseller. He’s since then turned his hand to just about everything, writing and supervising scripts for computer games like Enslaved and DmC: Devil May Cry, adapting graphic novels and books for the big screen (more on that below) and finally writing and directing his own feature film Ex Machina.
Ex Machina is a taut, tense and claustrophobic thriller. It stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a lowly programmer at the world’s most popular search engine who wins a competition to spend a week with Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac), the company’s reclusive CEO. During his week with him, Nathan asks Caleb if he will help him test a humanoid robot named Ava (played brilliantly by Alice Vikander) he has built. To carry out the test, Caleb puts into action the well-known Turing test, the practise of the tester asking questions without knowing if the computer is human. If Caleb passes Ava, then she may carry on existing, if she doesn’t, then Nathan promises to scrap her. And so it begins…
This is a real three-hander, with all the dramatic poise and power of the best stage plays, but with ideas and effects that could only work on the big screen.
To celebrate its release and the fact that Garland has added yet another string to his already impressive bow, we thought we’d present his five best moments, here goes…
Garland’s debut novel was published back in 1996 and quickly became a bestseller, reprinted over 25 times in its first year on sale. Inspired by his experiences as a backpacker, the thriller always seemed destined to the big screen and was soon turned into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role and Danny Boyle in the director’s chair.
It tells the story of Richard, a young American who goes to Thailand in search of something exotic and a world away from the gleaming skyscrapers of his daily life. Once on the ground, he is made aware of a hidden paradise where a new community is blossoming and together with two travelling friends he sets out to find it. But, once they get there, things don’t exactly go smoothly…
28 Days Later
Garland fell so head over heels with his idea for 28 Days Later that he actually ended up giving back a very handsome advance for two more novels.
His idea was a simple one: what if zombies could run? Initially dismissed by genre devotees, but quickly embraced once they saw the final film, 28 Days Later reunited Garland with Boyle for a movie that starred Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris and Brendan Gleeson.
It followed Cillian Murphy’s Jim, a bicycle courier who awakes from a coma to discover that the whole of the United Kingdom is in ruins as most of the population have become infected with ‘Rage’, a highly contagious rage-inducing virus that is spread through blood and saliva. Once out of hospital he sets out to find sanctuary, a task that gets more difficult by the minute…
Another collaboration with Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy, this was Garland’s first real foray into science fiction. This time Murphy starred alongside the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne and Chris Evans as a team of international scientists who are sent deep into space. Their mission is a simple one, the sun is dying and they need to restart it by firing a nuclear missile into its heart.
Brutally compact and ludicrously intense from minute one, this is not an easy watch at times, but it’s an absolutely thrilling one. An ambitious movie, it showed that Garland could marry enormous themes and giant ideas with rounded and interesting characters, something he has made his trademark.
Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro’s book didn’t seem like a natural fit for a big screen adaptation, it’s a delicate read, full of melancholy and visions of a very barren future. But, when Garland got hold of it, he adapted it tenderly and brilliantly, producing a great script that preserved the book’s epic plot twist and drew you in to the love story.
Never Let Me Go starred Andrew Garfield, Cary Mulligan and Keira Knightley and is part love triangle, part low key dystopia. It tells the story of Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, who spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school, a school which is hiding a dark, dark secret. No spoilers here, you’ll have to watch it. It’s great.
Judge Dredd, one of the most iconic comic book characters, had been adapted for the big screen once before back in 1995, an adaptation which starred Sylvester Stallone in a Gianni Versace designed costume. Fans hated it and it’s largely been forgotten about.
When Alex Garland took on the character once again, he did things very differently. His script for Pete Travis’s 2012 blockbuster is icy cool and utterly thrilling, with so many brilliant action sequences. Starring Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, with Olivia Thirlby as his young trainee Cassandra Anderson and Lena Headey as MaMa, a fearsome drug dealer who controls a tower block in a broken and beaten up Mega City One, a tower block Dredd and Anderson have to scale and control.
It didn’t set the box office on fire and so no sequel has materialised, but fans still clamour for one. This is a proper cult action movie and one that people will be watching for years to come. An essential purchase.
Ex Machina is out now on DVD in hmv stores across the UK.