photo arrival_ver16_zpsbblz4gnr.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgOh, what hath 2001: A Space Odyssey wrought? Ever since Stanley Kubrick’s trippy, mind-expanding space adventure first unfurled back in 1968, the intersection of extraterrestrial life and the human experience at the movies has never been the same. The original set the bar inspiring a varying degree of diminishing results ever since. The latest sci-fi offering to delve into this concept is Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival featuring a screenplay adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life”. Like Robert Zemeckis’ Contact or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Arrival is the “thinking man’s” alien invasion flick. Elevate your consciousness. That means expect lots of existentialist mumbo jumbo and less in the way of action or events.

Villeneuve is a category-defying filmmaker with successes in several genres including mystery (Incendies), thriller (Prisoners), psychobiological head trip (Enemy) and crime (Sicario) . His latest is an ethereal dissertation on what transpires after alien beings land on Earth. Twelve UFOs descend, hovering mysteriously in the sky. Tall, oblong shaped orbs dangling like colossal footballs over random locations across the planet. The one in the U.S. is over a field in Montana, The world is concerned. The key question must be addressed: “What is their purpose?”. In order to make contact, the U.S. Government taps Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams in the starring role), a top linguist, and a theoretical scientist (Jeremy Renner in a bit part), to help them to better understand their intention. She will try and establish communication with the extraterrestrial visitors.

Somber, eerie, and virtually devoid of color, Arrival is an atmospheric mood piece that treats the landing of visitors from another planet with the graveness of a heart attack. In the first half, there are moments of dread. The circumstances hold promise for the audience like a dangling carrot tempting a mule to move forward.  Dennis Villeneuve conveys so much on a small budget.  The set design is bleak. The spaceships loom large. The tension is palpable. The life forms are called heptapods . Their presence is frightening. Like huge long-limbed spiders, they present seven squid-like tentacles that emit an inky black substance. The amorphous liquid is their written language which forms circular shapes that Dr. Banks tries to decode. How do we interpret their language? What are they trying to tell us? Are they friend or foe? It’s a captivating set-up. Dr. Banks and her operation argue over whether the information they glean should be kept private or shared with the other teams corresponding with the pods in their parts of the world. The human race stands on the precipice of a global war. Arrival is great when it’s a twisty conundrum….until it isn’t.

To its credit, Arrival eventually answers all of its questions. The problem is that when the enigma is slowly disconnected, then so is the film.  Subplots become red herrings.  The narrative isn’t ultimately preoccupied with the alien threat. It’s fascinated by how language molds who we are. The idea is that people approach the world differently because of vocabulary. Reality varies according to the linguistic tools employed. Terminology frames our understanding. Dr. Banks is changed by the experience. That’s the gist of the account, but I’ve purposefully omitted the closing truth. Your enjoyment of Arrival will derive out of how fascinating you think the final reveal is. Perhaps it will positively blow your mind. It has a philosophical gist. In keeping with the production’s chilly tone, I found the ending too dispassionate. The denouement is rather underwhelming after such a promising introduction. Denis Villeneuve has erroneously created a drama left unfulfilled.


26 Responses to “Arrival”

  1. Hey Mark ,there appears to be a few stars missing from your final rating 😉

    • Still a positive review. Just not as mind blowing as it thinks it is. 🤓

      • I’ve gotta say I’ve cooled off since posting a video reaction in the immediate aftermath. I still love it but yeah, perhaps not the ‘ET of a new generation’ as I was about to declare it as……

      • I wouldn’t even call this an alien sci-fi flick. I won’t reveal spoilers, but once you see the film you realize it has little to do with the aliens at all.

  2. martin1250 Says:

    Great review. i appreciate the objectivity and will probably be seeing this movie on video rather than the theaters.
    The reason is because of two related things you’ve mentioned :
    1) there are enough existentialist sci-fi movies. It will be difficult to make an original one without comparisons to Contact and Interstellar.
    2) Denis Villeneuve’s movies, as great as they look, have denouements that are underwhelming. And as you might agree, the final act of a film is the most crucial part.

    • I liked the movie (3/5 stars is still positive) but found the ending underwhelming. I don’t understand the overwhelming praise from the critics. Audiences seem less enthusiastic as the B Cinemascore attests.

  3. This was my most anticipated movie this year. I was disappointed. Even though I loved the performances, I just didn’t like the mushy end. I also loved the language communication. Just wish there was something more exciting. 3 stars.

  4. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I feel this movie deserves additional viewings. I liked it more than you but not as much as people calling it a masterpiece. I guess the reveal pretty much worked for me. I just wish we could have seen more perspectives than Amy Adams. As you know I compared it to Midnight Special where we heard from the cult, parents, fbi agents etc. We got to see how all these different people absorbed the unexplainable. I wish Arrival had more of that. I would give it 4/5 stars right now

    • I have always felt that if a movie needs additional viewings to appreciate it, then it is already lacking in its ability to captivate the viewer outright. Naturally, I have watched a movie more than once. Usually in cases where I enjoyed it so much.

      My personal rule (as far as reviews are concerned) is that it’s not even-handed for me to give one film a second chance before I review it while another only gets one. I suppose if I had to do that, I would mention it in my review.

      4/5 stars to me is a pretty phenomenal film. You enjoyed this quite a bit more than I did.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Interesting perspective. I guess some movies are so epic in scope I feel I need multiple viewings to take it all in. Like Mad Max Fury Road I liked on first viewing but the more I saw it the more I loved it and the flaws became more forgivable. I can see what you mean though.

      • Yeah it’s like forcing yourself to eat food you don’t like. Do it enough times and after awhile it doesn’t offend you anymore because you got used to it. 😂 😂😂

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        LOL. I suppose it’s more like eating food you like but then learning to love it. I dont think I’ve ever disliked something and then liked it but grades have gone from B to A. Like I’m not going to like Warcraft if I see it again. Ha

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        You’ve really never had a movie you thought was ok and then you saw again and it really clicked for you? I’ve also had the reverse where I thought something was passable but on rewatch didnt like as much

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Walle is another one I liked but grew to love more I watched it

      • 2001: A Space Odyssey is an example of that for me.

  5. I agree with the score and your thoughts about the ending. The movie seemed to strike an emotional chord with a lot of people, but I was left a little cold (which I actually expect out of a Villeneuve film, just not this one). I think it’s because the second act dragged a bit and the third act was way too rushed.

  6. I think I enjoyed this film a bit more than you did. But I respect your opinion on it Mark and I would say that I don’t think this movie is for everyone.

    Here’s my review of the film.

    I’ve been going the cinema a lot more recently to update my viewing experiences and be in the know.

  7. Nice review. I had slightly more positive things to say about it. Check out my thoughts on the movie here:

  8. I believe Villeneuve is a hell of a directorial talent. But your thoughts I agree with. I just didn’t connect emotionally like the movie so desperately wanted me to in the last act. All of the movies I’ve seen from Villeneuve stuck with me after viewing, except this one. I’m in the minority though.

    • You and I are in the minority with our fellow critics, but it’s not universally beloved by audiences. This only got a B Cinemascore. Even the universally hated Inferno got a B+.

  9. I really like Arrival. I appreciate how eerie and devoid of color it is. I dig how much it does on a small budget. I find its analysis of language and the revelation of the process for decrypting alien language to be fascinating. I agree that the tension is palpable and the alien lifeforms are frightening. I also agree that the film becomes disconnected in its resolution. The whole idea of the world suddenly finding the aliens as a threat seems illogical to me given the duration they had already spent peacefully communicating with people. I didn’t find the big reveal to be mind blowing, partially because friends explained it to me beforehand. I wish there was a better way they could have explained how she saved the day. The whole phone call thing felt rushed and too easy to stop such a strong globalized force.

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