Film Review: Arrival (2016)

For this week’s review, two popular requests/recommendations that came my way were Arrival (2016) and Silence (2016). I had originally wanted to go with Silence, but because of time restraints, I had to push Silence to next week and opt with the former for this week.Upon deciding to watch it, I inwardly pouted. Cheesy, cliche alien flicks aren’t my thing. They probably aren’t yours either. But this notion is what ultimately makes the review a whole lot better 😉

Arrival is a sci-fi drama film directed by Denis Villenevue, written by Eric Heisserer, and based on the 1998 short story, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. Villenevue’s flick revolves around the event of gigantic, crescent-shaped spaceships landing in twelve locations around the world. Interestingly, it appears that these alien visitors are trying to communicate with humanity, although no one can understand them. Colonel Weber, (Forest Whitaker), then brings in linguistics professor, Louise Banks, (Amy Adams) to lead a team of investigators, (Jeremy Renner included), to understand what the aliens are trying to convey. However, Banks and her crew must also race against time in finding a method of communication with the aliens before the unknown fate of the planet reveals itself.

“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

The first aspect of the film that it does well in is the progression of its plot. Within

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Oompa-Loompa-suits-time ;D

the first ten minutes of the film, everything sets itself in place and establishes the main goal the characters of Arrival strive to achieve. But having said that, I should caution you that the entire story is essentially constructed on that: an immense of effort dedicated to decoding the aliens’ language. It isn’t  necessarily a weak aspect of the film, however, you shouldn’t expect to see the plot expanding into something entirely different as it progresses. Speaking of expectations, contrary to what one would expect out of an alien film, Arrival in retrospect is a quiet, cerebral film that works to stimulate thought and emotion rather than simply filling the screen with boom-boom explosions and non-stop action. However, this shouldn’t put you off! You will be rewarded by the eventual pay-off of the plot as mentioned below.

“But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.”

In further discussing the plot, Villenvue’s storytelling craft is clever in which set-up details are subtly sprinkled throughout plot that viewers will overlook. Thus, the film dexterously presents a woven image at the end of the film that both allows its set-ups to be paid off and satisfyingly rewards the viewer; while the reader may initially think the plot is merely drifting around, once the set-ups are revealed, the viewer will realize the vast extent of development Villenvue intended. I know it happened with me! I had initially thought I had figured the ending out, as I usually had done so with even the best of endings, (I wasn’t fazed by Fight Club), and yet the complexity of the sprinkled details coming together to form a conclusion threw me into a deeper-down-the-rabbit’s-hole concept. You think you know here the story is headed until it turns and you’re left *****– sorry, can’t spoil 😉

Another aspect that Villenevue’s film marvels in is its originality–certainly

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Alien Language

something we haven’t had for quite some time. Aside from the plot, an example of this is Villenevue’s integration of a wide spectrum of complexities into the aliens’ culture. Rather than painting the aliens with a broad, traditional image of being evil, shooting lasers at people, and making them go poof in an explosion of clothing, Villenevue humanizes them in which they are depicted to have cultural aspects that illustrate them to be as rich and multifaceted as humans, (an example being language and communication). The end product of this makes our extraterrestrial friends mysterious, alluring, and most importantly elicits care from the viewer. Aside from establishing a unique culture, Villenevue also creates an crystal-cut identity for the aliens in which they are easily distinguishable from other aliens in varying forms of entertainment.. An example is the physical characteristics of the aliens–namely that in which they have the ability to emit a black smoke, ink-like essence from their  tentacles, thus forming into varying circular rings that translate to their form of language. Villenevue’s integration of basic human aspects such as that of language and communication allow the aliens to be represented as three-dimensional as opposed to the banal figures other media have commonly portrayed them as.

“Well, the cornerstone of civilization isn’t language, it’s science.”

The next aspect that Villenvue excels in is his film’s realism and particularly the reactions of the characters in the film. I really enjoyed how the characters’ actions that progressed didn’t follow the traditional, cheesy sci-fi  formula of discovering aliens, freaking out, going ‘oh, shit,’ bombing the heck outta them, and shouting ‘hoozah for ‘Murica!” Rather, Villenvue imbues his work with realism, (or at least how we’d like to think our government would react), in approaching the unknown; they decide to first get their facts straight, take precautions, and research a way of communicating with the extraterrestrial visitors in attempt to solve the problem at hand–knowing that a stupid move could set off a chain of consequential events.This is definitely nice considering we get a break from otherwise rolling our eyes at the stupidity of the main characters.So, yay for not pulling your hair out! 😀

Moving on to the next topic: cinematography. The cinematography particularly stood

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Rule of every drama: look into some blank unknown and ponder your life.

out to me in which the film was tinted mainly with a blue/grey tinge. In doing so, the colors elicit a notion of moody, hopeless uncertainty–just as Banks feels as she endures her adventure. This poetic atmosphere of color is further completed by Villenvue’s decision to incorporate a tinge of yellow in shots depicting the UFO floating above a vast field of isolated grass. From a analytic perspective, the yellow symbolizes the possibility of the characters choosing an action that leads to a brighter future; the gateway to opportunity.

Another aspect worthy of praise is the effects incorporated into the film–particularly the realism of the UFO, (crescent-shaped aircraft) floating above the field of green. Villenvue manages to seamlessly blend the UFO in with its surrounding landscape, resulting in an   -ominous, mysterious, and natural/realistic depiction of how one would picture UFO’s to look like in real life. Now I’m not tech-savy, but what I can tell you is that Arrival was spared the embarrassment of pathetic, exaggerated CGI;  Villenvue only uses what it is necessary for his film and manages to pull it off. It reminds us of the days of an old Hollywood where many things relied on practical effects as opposed to CGI-ing the crap out of everything, (obviously different time = lack of computers). Nevertheless, you’ll watch this film and think, “Nice. Why can’t other films use the same, minimal amount of CGI as Villenvue has done?”

“I used to think this was the beginning of your story.”

The only aspect of improvement worth mentioning is it would have been nice if Villenvue showed how the characters decoded/understood the aliens’ rings instead of simply showing a skeletal image of a ring on computer. If Villenvue had done this, it would have perfected his image of realism he seemed to be heading towards.

Closing Thoughts: Villenvue takes a linguistic approach of film in which he doesn’t fall into the trap of wanting to appeal to a traditional alien sci-fi genre. Rather, he seeks to establish his own type of genre–which succeeds. You shouldn’t watch this movie thinking that it’ll be alien gore flying around and whatnot. Rather, Arrival is a film executed to cause its reader to think, reflect, and repeat. Arrival is a mind-boggling film that we’ve been waiting for for a long time. Having said that, it isn’t some film yo can watch at any given moment; you have to mentally invest yourself into the progression of the plot.Be aware that it isn’t any ol’ film you can watch and process like a romantic comedy; mentally prepare yourself 😉

Running Time: 1h, 58min

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama

How to Approach the Film: Seriously

Final Verdict: A


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