Mar 17, 2017

[Movies] The Arrival (2016)

The buzz around The Arrival had been pretty good and I had been looking forward to watching this movie towards the end of 2016. But one thing led to another and the movie's local release was pushed back to February 2017 instead and so we had to wait before getting to watch the movie.

In the end I still ended up watching it on home video. Irony.

Now I'm a big science fiction guy and I've come to accept that movie movies that get tagged as science fiction end up focusing more on being action movies set in the future or in space. But the sort of more cerebral science fiction stories that really kicked off the genre many years ago don't given get features.

This movie managed to touch on that sort of vibe in a great way and it's certainly a refreshing sort of movie to encounter given the prevalence of more typical Hollywood summer blockbusters. It's not quite a knock out of the park, but I really do appreciate that this sort of movie still got released. It's totally worth seeing.

Synopsis: The Arrival is a science fiction movie directed by Denis Villeneuve with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer. The movie was based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life", which was written by Ted Chiang. It was among the Best Picture nominees for the 89th Academy Awards.

Twelve alien ships appear over major cities around the world without warning and linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is asked to join the team investigating the aliens in order to attempt to decipher their language. Another member of the team is a physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and the two eventually get to enter the vessel and there they encounter the 7-limbed aliens within. The aliens remain isolated from them by a barrier as they appear to require a different atmospheric mix of gases to survive.

The are able to press a tentacle onto the barrier and release an inky solution in various shapes, which appears to be their language. Thus Banks works tirelessly to figure out what they're trying to say with these various circular shapes. But as they make headway with the language, the bigger question is figuring out the beginning and end of their sentences as they literally speak in circles. Thus misinterpretation comes easily and the fears of the governments of the Earth are just waiting for an excuse to take more direct action.

What I Liked: This movie is pretty brilliant is that it's a science fiction story that is really just a story about language and communication at its core. We don't have a big fight nor do we have high tech weapons or space battles. Instead we have this odd ovoid ships just hanging around with the real "action" being Louise Banks figuring a totally alien language. Riveting stuff.

And while I'm a little tired of towering aliens with tentacles, in the end the aliens nicely worked this time around. The use of the almost foggy alien environment to mostly obscure them made for a great cinematic device. Heck a lot about the alien race like how gravity would vary in different parts of the alien ship just show how much thought went into things.

What Could Have Been Better: In the end this movie begins and ends with the character of Louise Banks and everyone else is just noise. This is most felt for Jeremy Renner's character, Ian, as his role in things never really felt all that essential to the story. He did made for a nice little counter point to Amy Adams but in the end there just wasn't much else to him in the movie.

The big reveal at the end is a little dizzying, as is expected from this brand of science fiction I suppose. The big answers at the end of things do make sense with respect to the movie, but may not be that easy to wrap your head around otherwise. That can hurt the movie with some segments of the audience I suppose, but it's still better when movies gamble on this sort of thing instead. At least we can hope.

TL;DR: The Arrival is a smart, thoughtful movie that stresses the power of language more than anything else. It's not easy movie fare and you'll need to pay a bit more attention to events, but it all makes great sense in the end. Thus the movie gets 4.5 alien messages out of a possible 5.

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