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Arrival - Spoiler-free movie review

Nathan Strum

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Even though it had... appeared? ...been released? ...shown up? ...landed? No... that's not the word I'm looking for...

Anyway, even though Arrival first came out in movie theaters back in November, it took me until a little over a week ago to finally see it.

Much to my surprise, there were still quite a few theaters (in the Seattle area) showing it, and there were actually more people in the theater seeing Arrival, than when I'd seen Passengers a few days before, despite Passengers being a much newer film.

But after seeing both films, it was pretty clear why. Arrival is a really good science fiction film. Passengers was not.

Arrival centers on (spoiler alert) - an arrival. I know... didn't see that coming, right? In this case, it's the arrival of a dozen huge alien spaceships that look kind of like coffee beans, that take position in a dozen seemingly random points around the Earth, and proceed to just sit there.

That brings up the central question of the movie - what are they doing here? And to figure that out, they bring in linguistics expert Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. As she begins to unravel the mystery of the aliens, more of her story is revealed, and... that's all I'm going to tell you. You know, "spoiler-free" and all that.

Arrival is a different science fiction film than what I've seen in awhile. Much more thought provoking that the typical fare. No gratuitous action sequences. It's entirely Earth-bound. It takes place in the present time. We don't have any unbelievably advanced technology of our own, and the means through which we have to learn to communicate with the aliens in the film is refreshingly simple and grounded in reality.

Amy Adams is outstanding in this film, and while I don't really know what constitutes an Oscar-worthy performance, she certainly should be getting some sort of accolades for this. The movie revolves around her story, and she makes the whole film work. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good, including Jeremy Renner as a scientist also trying to unravel the same puzzle, but really, Adams is the heart and soul of the film.

Although it would've been interesting to hear the two of them talking behind the scenes about what it's like working on

. "Yeah, and then, since I don't have any super-powers, someone had to step in and rescue me and keep me from dying." "Really? Me too. Happens all the time."

Anyway... :ponder:

Even though Arrival isn't an action film, there's plenty of tension in the movie, and I was captivated by the film the whole way through. There are certainly some familiar elements from other films - Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it never feels derivative. The tone is very different from those other films, as is the approach to telling the story. You have to be paying attention, and in the end, figure some things out without being beaten over the head with the answers. Yep - you may have to do some thinking with this one.

As for the trailers, I'd suggest you don't watch them. I hadn't seen any of the theatrical trailers until after seeing the movie, which is good because the trailers don't reflect the actual tone of the film at all. They're edited to make the movie seem faster and more action-y than it is (or should be), and the longer of the two trailers gives away a lot of the critical events of the film. The
was all I had seen, and did a good job of interesting me enough in seeing the movie, without giving anything away. I suspect that Paramount didn't know how they were going to market this film, so they tried to make it seem more like Independence Day, and it certainly isn't that.

If you can still find Arrival in the theaters, I'd highly recommend seeing it. It was a refreshing break from the typical loud, action-packed, special effects heavy, blockbuster sci-fi epics. There are certainly special effects in Arrival, and while they're excellent, they're understated. They aren't the focus of the film - they're there to support it. My only real complaint about the film is that there's some forced drama that's added to push the story along, and while it does add some additional tension, it was a little too ham-fisted in its execution. But that's a minor quibble. This story is about character, and communication, and I found the film to be engaging, entertaining, and highly compelling. As far as movies about aliens are concerned, this one has an incredible amount of humanity in it. Well worth seeing.

Check it out if you can. Arrival gets an 8.5/10.
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Very nice review. I like how the movie ties in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and how the aliens' perception or experience of time results from their unique language system. Amy Adams' character not only picks up on the alien language, but begins to perceive reality as they do. Nice little flick.

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Massive spoiler alert:

 

I wasn't sure if this was the filmmaker's intent or not, but it seemed to me

that only after she realized that she was learning things from the future, did she begin to realize that the entire prologue about her daughter was something that had yet to occur. The way it was presented, I thought she thought it was already part of her past - that she'd actually been married before, and had a daughter, even before the aliens arrived. So that meant her altered perception of time affected her past before she had begun learning the language. At least that's how I saw it. Maybe I was reading too much into it.

Even if that wasn't the case, I still liked the film. :)

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