Here’s the main adjective I would use to describe Arrival: Heavy.
- IS IT “GOOD?” Yes.
- How much $$ is it worth? – $8 movie ticket.
- What’s good about it? – Linguistics are cool.
- What about the acting? – Amy Adams carries this movie on her back and does it well. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are playing characters that could be played by anyone. Adams, on the other hand, has a much more challenging role and she pulls it off.
- What about the film score? – Using Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is EXTREMELY DISTRACTING and took me out of the movie. They couldn’t get Jóhann Jóhannsson to create an equally haunting dirge?
At the end of 2016, I’m consciously realizing that my perfect film is that right balance between thoughtfulness and wink-and-a-nod movie levity. In the genre of extraterrestrial hypothetical movies, Arrival strives to be the anti-Independence Day. In 2016, that makes it objectively a better movie. But personally, for all the crap I give ID4 and its abomination of a sequel, I realize that I miss that playfulness of the typical 90’s alien flick. This is a spiritual successor to Contact, in the same vein of Interstellar.
But at the end of the day, that makes me wish for a random Joe-on-the-Street character who is simultaneously freaking out about the aliens while trying to cash a check at the bank or something. The closest we get to that is at the beginning with the college students learning about the invasion via their phone. From that point forward, the movie is about emotions, academics, politics, philosophy, and high-level concepts.
But just because a movie deals in smart concepts doesn’t make the movie itself smart.
Which isn’t the worst criticism I can give it. Arrival is tense and earnest and those are both good qualities.
Ultimately I feel like it’s not really trying to tell a story. It’s trying to convey a point. That’s the flaw it has in common with Interstellar. In fact, I’d say Interstellar, despite itself, did manage to build some unique plot on its philosophical idea in a way Arrival didn’t.
Arrival is more aggressively using character pathos to give a philosophy course, but it doesn’t use the medium of film to really give you characters you can hold in your head. You know the part at the end where the alien ships lift off and vaporize? That’s how I feel about Hannah, Ian, and to an extent – Louise. They’re ephemeral vessels trying to tell the audience some mind-blowing lesson about love, connections, and the nature of existence.
Still, it’s an interesting reaction to the well-worn alien invasion tropes that we’re familiar with. It gives you ideas to talk about afterwards. And there’s two great lines – “Offer weapon” and “Who is this girl?” Those two moments in the movie define Arrival at it’s best – tension and flipped perceptions. It’s worth a place among any collection that includes Contact and Interstellar.
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