To be honest, 2016 has been an above average year for Sci-Fi. And no, I am not talking about Star Trek Beyond or Star Wars Rogue One.
But the Science Fiction films that make you think, that assume you are paying attention to the film and are here for a ride. Sure, we were given Allegiant, The 5th Wave, Independence Day: Resurgence, but they aren’t the only films out there. We were also given Midnight Special, which I gave a 4 out of 4 to, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, which I only had minor issues with.
And yet despite the better than average year, Arrival raises the bar higher and blows them all away.
That is important. That means something.
Arrival of course opens up with a parent losing her child, because movies want desperately for me to be sad always. We see a quick montage of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) narrating over brief glimpses of her daughter, Hannah, and eventually succumbing to cancer in the late teens of early twenties. Fuck. Okay, let’s start off somber.
Dr. Banks is a linguist and teaches at a university level. She knows quite a few languages and just how they develop better than almost anyone. She has some government clearance too, thanks to helping decode some terrorist messages. So when the aliens come, she is quickly swept up to help figure out their language. The aliens are in twelve giant intimidating oval shaped pods around the world, with the only one in the US landing in Montana. Banks quickly determines that the best way to communicate and learn from them is an attempt to communicate both vocally and through a written language.
Her science team is lead by a theoretical physicist, Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), with the head military guy being played by Forest Whitaker, the head of operations guy being played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and of course, Tzi Ma, playing a Chinese general.
Suiting Up is always important when meeting someone new. Even if it is a biohazard suit.
Denis Villeneuve is a god amongst men. Sure, he didn’t come up with Arrival on his own, it is based on a book Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. But Villeneuve is consistently doing films that seemingly no one else is attempting. He is not defining what is right or what is wrong. He is not holding your hand to give you all the answers in his stories. This is true for Enemy, Sicario, and Prisoners, and now it is true for Arrival. Many other directors would have made the film a lot more in your face, but Villeneuve assumes we are smarter than that and wants to focus on the experience and narrative, rather than pointing out the subtleties.
After the director it is hard to say where else I should go with this. The cinematography is beautiful, a lot of longer shots. We even get the indie “camera following the main character walking” shot a few times, which I normally get annoyed at, but this time it seems to work really well. The aliens themselves are stunning and a bit scary, shrouded in their mystery. And the music is a hard thing to ignore, all over the place and really putting the watcher in the right mood.
Adams pulls off a hell of a performance and is likely to be nominated from it. She is such a different person in this movie, even though she clearly looks like Adams, she feels like someone else. A lot of the crazier moments come up through and about her character and it is thrilling ride the entire time. Adams made me cry. Multiple times.
The film addresses a lot of powerful themes, and to talk about most of them would feel like a spoiler. Such is the problems of a reviewer.
Arrival is the sort of film that will actually get better with subsequent viewings. It ends up going places I didn’t think possible, and will stay with me for quite a long time.
4 out of 4.