This movie review is a guest post by Andrew Lau
Arrival is executed in the style that fools most film critics into thinking there’s a lot more going on than there really is.
That understated style where the camera lingers a lot longer than it should on everything. Where dolly moves and zooms are slow and seemingly deliberate to imply depth and meaning.
Where the camera is placed wide and never cuts into the emotion. Where people talk at one end of the room but are photographed (with an extra long lens) from the other side in silhouette. Yes, that style.
Amy Adams, translator extraordinaire, is called by the military to communicate with aliens upon their arrival on Earth. She meets with the over-sized squids and tries to decipher their language of circular, squiggly, inky lines.
Meanwhile, there’s a little confusion about what the inky lines mean. Suspicious and jittery, the Chinese decide the aliens have come to blow our planet away. They gather their military forces to blow the aliens away first… but Amy works it all out before the shit hits the fan.
Not giving anything away here. All this is in the trailer.
The film has a fabulous aesthetic — the spaceships and aliens are unlike anything we’ve seen before. The music is GREAT and the tone is consistently mournful keeping within the theme of loss.
Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is effectively used, anchoring the emotions of our heroine, allowing the audience into her state of mind.
But if you watch the film carefully, you’ll see the film is mostly style. There’s little tangible substance. There’s so little story content in this film it could, and should have been a 45 minute short.
The film lacks in conflict and drama between the cardboard-thin characters. What you see in the trailers isn’t the tip of the iceberg. It’s what you get. Cut and dried. That’s it.
Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) directed this and makes these choices deliberately. He’s just being himself. I’ve decided he’s more a minimal stylist than story-teller.
After the initial awe and excitement of the alien landing and first-contact, whether or not you enjoy this film will depend on your taste. Whether or not you are bored, will depend on if you’re just happy to go along with style.
If you’re into films where people gaze into the distance mournfully or stare at computer screens with deep bewilderment for long periods, this is the movie for you. If you’re a film-maker or film-geek who gets excited by long-lens silhouette shots, this is the movie for you.
If you want a concrete story with in-depth characters and tension, this is NOT the movie for you.
Arrival is about the importance of communicating. Communicating with honesty, integrity and transparency. It takes time to understand what doesn’t make sense and points of view that are opposite or different to our own.
Arrival was released days before Donald Trump was elected into office, making these ideas all the more poignant for these politically divisive times.
I can say I love what the film’s story is about, but not how the film goes about telling its story.
Arrival gets 7 out of 10, for style.
* * *
Stu’s note: Based on a Ted Chiang short story, the concept for this movie was instantly interesting to me. However, it’s a slow-paced film with many contemplative shots that linger too long. As Andrew mentions, the style of this movie makes you think there’s more to the story than there really is. After the movie, I felt like there was something deeper that I was missing, but additional probing with friends failed to turn up much. Many science fiction movies of this type provide a fertile seed for “what if” conversations about free will, predestination, and soothsaying, but Arrival didn’t feel like a typical sci-fi movie in that respect. Instead, it focused on exploring the idea of communication – both intra- and interspecies – while doing so in an innocuous manner that didn’t provoke the “what if” kind of curiosity that I love about sci-fi.