Arrival: In a word… Weeeeeeeeeeeird!
But that wouldn’t make much of a review.
In a nutshell, it’s another film where aliens arrive on Earth, but one that’s centred more in the mould of drama than action, and begins with a dark, foreboding score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, particularly the additional track from Max Richter, On the Nature of Daylight, which has been used a number of times before in TV and film, but has a real punch here that leaves certain moments of the film with you for a long time after.
I will also add that it’s worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. Some cinemas are showing it in IMAX if they’re not dominated by Doctor Strange, so you might miss out in some places, but otherwise, sit as close to the screen as you can. I watched this at Vue Lowry, as I have with a number of films, and saw this one in their Gold Class room which is pretty damn big, although even if you’re in one of the others, take my usual tip (which works for other cinemas too) in that if there’s separate front and back seating sections, sit at the back of the front section. You’ll end up in either the fifth or six row with your vision being filled, and that is what you need.
Arrival is a spectacle, for sure, and certainly one that’s worth a watch on the big screen to take in the full effect of the alien craft, but go expecting sci-fi drama not action.
It feels like mostly a two-hander between Amy Adams, who proves her acting mettle – well, she is a five-times Oscar-nominated actress in leading and supporting roles and looking at Nos.6 and 7 with this and Nocturnal Animals – here as cunning linguist Dr. Louise Banks, tasked with trying to make head or tail of what our planet’s new visitors are saying as their near-egg-shaped monoliths almost land, hovering just a few metres above the ground, and Jeremy Renner providing good support as theorist Ian Donnelly. Forest Whittaker also makes his presence felt as grumpy army bloke Colonel Weber, but it’s the main two upon whom this movie mostly focuses.
Naturally, this arrival causes society to begin to break down – with all of Amy’s lecturer character’s lessons out of the window for the foreseeable, but it doesn’t overly focus on modern life freaking out like some films would. That said, you couldn’t blame the polulation for running and screaming, since they have no idea what they’re facing when these things turn up out of the blue and don’t initially attempt to get across a message of any kind, so you have no idea whether they’re friend or foe, which makes me implore any alien race: if you come to Earth, and are doing so in peace, first figure out a way to get that message across before you make people lose their minds.
Of course, if you’re NOT coming in peace, then we’ll get the idea when you disembark from your ships and start shooting lasers at people… but then this is Arrival and not Mars Attacks!
One big plus about this film, too, is that it doesn’t spend a long time setting up its stall at the start. It gives as much info as you need to get going, and then it cracks on to investigate what the deal is with the newbies.
In life, communication is the key. We need to talk to each other. Not talking can lead to resentment, fear and the unknown. How many of us talk to our neighbours on a regular basis, for example?
The poster asks “Why are they here?” and while watching the film would obviously provide answers, I still felt rather baffled by the end of it all. It started to piece together in my mind as time went on afterwards, and to that end, it does feel like a jigsaw that’s taking an age to put together, although it does find all the pieces, even if it does take the entire length of the film to do so.
Hence, when I said that after the opening, it ‘cracks on’, it does so quite slowly – albeit never feeling like it’s going too slowly, if that makes sense. Might do when you’ve seen the film, although I will say that in a bid to attempt communication with the aliens, they quickly and actively eschew the thought of sending a load of binary numbers at them, which I likened to the musical notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as that would’ve just felt like an obvious copy of things we’d seen before.
I will also say – and the trailer shows this – that Ms Adams and co enter one of the craft, where the gravity inside is different; and how there’s also a huge corridor which not only reminded me of Time Bandits in Kevin’s bedroom, but also seemed like a very inefficient use of space… but then this is not Location Location Location(!)
This film defintely has elements of Contact in there, part of it being that one woman ends up being selected to talk to the aliens – but with other elements I don’t want to spoil, and since it’s ultimately more about the journey than the destination, I originally felt I didn’t think it would be one I’d watch again as you’ve got the message, but 90 minutes in and I was still trying to piece this movie together, and since I was still thinking about it as the evening went on, at home, a second viewing would be helpful so I can take it all in some more.
Arrival is bizarre but intoxicating. You have to suspend a huge amount of disbelief, and I’ve given it 7.5/10 overall as while it makes for an engaging watch, the story isn’t massively meaty – the film starts, you watch it, the film ends, and then you figure out more of it in your mind after the viewing.
I’d also highly recommend Denis Villeneuve‘s Sicario, released last year to great acclaim, and hopefully that’ll lead to a sequel also starring Emily Blunt. 2013’s Prisoners was worth a look, but better, and out the same year and also starring Jake Gyllenhaal was Enemy.
As an aside, I only remember one f-word in this film, and American studios will always throw at least one into a non-children’s movie so it escapes a PG-certificate which is often though as box-office death. However, if aliens arrived in huge, I’d be swearing a great deal!!
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: Entertainment One
Cinema: Vue, Lowry, Salford Quays
Format: 2.35:1 ( Arri Alexa, Camtech Vintage Ultra Prime, Kowa Cine Prominar Spherical and Zeiss Super Speed Lenses, Camtec Vintage Ultra Prime Lenses, Kowa Cine Prominar Spherical lenses)
Released: November 10th 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producers: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde and Aaron Ryder
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer (based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang)
Music: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Dr. Louise Banks: Amy Adams
Ian Donnelly: Jeremy Renner
Colonel Weber: Forest Whitaker
Agent Halpern: Michael Stuhlbarg
General Shang: Tzi Ma
Captain Marks: Mark O’Brien
Pvt. Miller: Max Walker
Hannah (4 yrs. old): Jadyn Malone
Hannah (4 yrs. old): Carmela Nossa Guizzo
Hannah (8 yrs. old): Abigail Pniowsky
Hannah (12 yrs. old): Julia Scarlett Dan
Cryptographers: Joe Cobden and Genevieve Sirois
Environmental Tech: Pat Kiely
Dr. Kettler: Frank Schorpion
Deputy Director of the CIA Dan Ryder: Larry Day
Halpern’s Deputy Director: Philippe Hartmann
Chinese Scientist: Ruth Chiang
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.