In the Beginning
The honest review of the film arrival given by me is an unbiased opinion and is not determined by anything else. In recent years, it seems most Sci-fi Films begin with some gigantic battle or event. The purpose of which, I imagine, is to catapult the audience in to a state of awe and excitement. In reality, it tends to annoy and aggravate most reasonably intelligent movie goers.
This movie, however, does things a little differently. The quiet almost melancholy opening sets the tone of the movie and does not rush its audience to the plot or the main theme of the movie. The excellent Amy Adams is Dr Louise Banks, a linguist and college professor who appears to be dealing with some form of grief. In fact, she seems oblivious to everything that is happening around her.
Almost without warning the introduction to visitors, we presume from another world seems not to concern her that much. She appears to handle what’s happening calmly without worry, until she is visited by the US military in the form of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). The aliens we learn have communicated, since arriving in their large oval shaped craft. As they hang in the air silently, doing nothing but still manage to frighten the population of the planet.
Weber then assembles a team lead by Adams and physicist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner. The alien’s mode of communication is based on imagery and the earth’s best linguist and scientists try to unravel what the alien visitors are saying. And that is basically the entire film in a nutshell. Director Dennis Villeneuve’s film is a masterpiece of understatement, less is more and the quality of both the acting, Adams Dr Banks and Renner’s Donnelly is top quality. Both are understated but convey great emotion and heart and the direction of Villeneuve is structured and patient.
Based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life, the script by Eric Heisserer Dr Banks recruited to discover the intentions of the “heptapods,”. Despite the best efforts of scientists around the world, the lack of communication panics the armies of the world. The Chinese, Russian and US military prepare to attack, the fear of the unknown is an underlying theme in this movie.
Villeneuve really uses his budget well and the 50 million dollars spent is excellent value foe a great looking movie without an overuse of CGI effects. This gives the movie an authenticity and the quality of the script, the performance of the actors and the pace and style of direction makes this film an all-round great film. Where the special effects are used, they are handled with restraint and always enhance the film and the story. The story seems to be the most important element here, unlike in so many big-budget effects laden movies these days.
This movie deals with many heavy issues, such as loss, and how to cope with it. The direction however never lets the mood dominate the film and the narrative always stays on track. The script helps and the chemistry between Adams and Renner backed up with Whitakers performance establishes Arrival as one of the best movies of the last 20 years. Indeed, Adams performance is exceptionally good and deserves special praise as she shows her class as an actress. She manages to be convincing while acting within herself, a low key yet totally convincing performance.
Despite the low budget and lack of Big budget CGI effects we have grown use to lately, this movie looks great. The cinematography is beautiful and precise in its subtlety, the early scenes when Adams is at home and stares out into the lake are beautifully shot and help to create a solemn and delicate mood.
This film deals with the issue of Linguistics, and the meaning of language in general. Some scholars suggest that language may in fact may be the decisive factor in how humans see reality. The movie seems to push this belief as gospel. However, most linguists feel that this is not really the case. In other words, the film may be stretching some of the points and references to language and the circular nature of time a little to far.
Like many films, Arrival originally had a different ending then the one shown. That ending would have focused on the plans for an alien ship, something which was similar to the Plot of Interstellar. The implication was that the ship would be an ark of some type possibly leading to a visit to the Heptapods’ home planet.
Early promotional posters of the film showed the craft hovering over Hong Kong. The posters however, showed the image of a tower in Shanghai. This did not go over to well in Hong Kong and the posters were removed and an apology issued.
The original title of the film was “Story of Your Life” the title of the novella by Ted Chiang. However, when test audiences watched the movie they indicated a strong dislike for the title and the producers changed it to Arrival.
Dennis Villeneuve is establishing himself as one of the top directors in the business and it is his patience and ingenuity with the material provided to him that stands him apart from most modern directors. Look at some of his other films such as Sicario and another film of his we will review in the future Blade Runner 2049, to see a director at the peak of his career. Sometimes less is more and his work to date justifies that statement. This film is highly recommended and with a little patience a fine reward will be provided.