Arrival is the latest “thinking person” sci-fi. Following in the vein of Interstellar, the film is less interested in the aliens that arrive on earth than it is in how the humans are affected by the intergalactic event. Amy Adams stars as Dr Louise Banks, an expert linguist who is called upon by the American Military to investigate mysterious spacecraft which have parked themselves at 12 destinations all over Earth. Some countries handle the unease calmly (America. Duh.); while others freak out (Hint: which countries are America threatened by?). Jeremy Renner plays scientist Ian Donnelly, and Forest Whitaker plays a supporting role as Colonel Webber, who leads the operation.
In honour of Dr Banks’ profession, and the highly expository dialogue used in the film, I am going to preface the following paragraphs with headings based on my feelings about this film, and their dictionary definitions. Because apparently, explaining everything is how you do “smart” these days:
This is a high-concept sci fi that fails to deliver on story. Maybe this is why I found it so…
Failing to fulfill one’s hopes or expectations
The film does well to set up tension by being paced really slowly at the start with a slow, steady build up of unease. Unfortunately, tension is pointless unless there is a payoff, and the payoff here wasn’t worthy of the tension that came before it.
The film is about people wanting, and struggling, to make connections: both with each other and with the aliens. Unfortunately this had the effect of making every character seem cold, sterile, charmless, and as a result I found it impossible to care for any of them. None of them felt real or believable as human beings.
Lacking in subtlety
For a film that is so focussed on language and its intricacies, there is not much in the way of subtlety or nuance demonstrated in the dialogue spoken by its characters or the storytelling.
“Not everyone is able to process experiences like this”, says a military official as someone is being evacuated. You don’t say?
Dr Banks and her co-worker Ian Donnelly are pitted as opposites: they are introduced to each other as “science” and “language” and they must learn to get along. What’s that cliche about opposites?
Something absurd or fatuous
The film sets up a couple of rules for its inter-species communication, and then breaks them pretty quickly when it needs to wrap things up.
Without real or significant worth; meaningless
Without spoiling it, it’s impossible to explain why this film felt so pointless afterwards. But the conclusion left me asking: Really? That’s it? Everyone on Earth thought that the world is ending… for that?
Here are some things that I did like about the film. It’s…
Having beauty; possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about
The film looks and sounds amazing. The alien spacecraft is rendered beautifully and the sound design is excellent. But honestly, with a $50million dollar budget, you expect it to look and sound good. There was clearly a lot of care taken with the look and feel of this film, which is no mean feat.
It pays homage to classic sci-fi films like 200o1: A Space Odyssey, and Amy Adams turns in a good performance (she’s never bad). Unfortunately the material she’s given to work with is so hollow that at times I felt like she was being used as a special effect.
Appealing to or engaging the intellect
The film touches on intellectual themes, and this is something I found enjoyable. Dr Banks speaks some truths about the unexpected challenges of language acquisition, beyond the standard dictionary meanings of words. Anyone who’s had to learn a new language will be able to relate to the frustration of learning a word and then realising that its definition changes depending on context, and this is something that ‘Arrival’ understands and communicates well.
Source: Roadshow Films