Good sci-fi is hard to come by because it’s a difficult genre to crack. But when it happens, man is it a treat. Arrival is one such success.
When 12 alien space craft land on Earth, humanity is put on edge. In the mission to figure out who, what, where and most importantly, why they have come, linguist expert Louise Banks is enlisted. With her knowledge in language, she leads the American team to contact and communicate with the aliens.
Arrival works so well because every step in the filmmaking process was done right. What’s our story about, how can we make it stand out from the rest, and how do we get the message to the viewer clearly? The purpose of the pre-production of this film is the same as the films completed message: the importance of communication.
First, there’s the aesthetics of the movie. The alien presence is of course front and center. The ships are massive pebble shaped structures that hover silently just feet off of the ground It looks organic, but other worldly. The interior, the little that we do see. shares the natural and minimalistic forms of the outside. The white barrier, where the aliens interact with the humans is the sole light source for the environment. Then, the rather brilliant design of the aliens themselves. The closest representation is aquatic life, but the shape and general articulation also incorporate a wild mix of human and arachnid representation. The alien scope of Arrival is very refreshing and enthralling to see.
One of the bigger selling points I found with Arrival is that it bucks the staple of an invasion movie. Yes, an attack is always on the table as a concern and a threat, but that feeds on our natural instinct to fear what we don’t know. The movie takes its time to slow things down and marinate on that tension. The intellectual side comes out to say, we have to figure this out to gives us every opportunity to come out of this on the other side. That’s where the communication comes in. We need to start with baby steps before we get to the hard questions. We must understand each other first so we don’t get mixed up.
The problems come when we stop talking.
I think this is the best work Amy Adams has done to date and Jeremy Renner as her co-star is another great choice. While the cast is rather small (I’ve been a fan of Forest Whitaker for a long time too), each one brings their own humanity to the screen.
The way this story is told is rather brilliant too. We go on this mission with Louise, she is our point of view. To talk about her journey as it comes around would take away a large part of the movie, so I won’t say any more on that (it’s the biggest hook of the movie, make sure to pay attention).
Arrival is a rather minimalist take on a close encounter alien movie, but it does actually gives you a lot. It’s foreign as it relates to other worlds and languages and rules. But it’s also familiar with its very human story. It’s expertly paced and edited (the sound work is exceptional as well) to under two hours that leaves you with much to consider while avoiding the traps of being too complex or trite.
I heard a lot of praise for Arrival when it came out and I’m happy to report that it was all well deserved.