Saturday, November 19, 2016

Arrival Review

It's been a week, let's talk about spoiler filled aliens.

If there's one thing that I know I suck at, it's being timely. Timeliness has always been a struggle for me just because of how busy life can be sometimes. If I had a huge workload on my plate, I'll push off certain projects until I'm free, and then I'll continue on when I finally do have the time. Usually that's why I do Triple Features, but Arrival is a different case. It's a very serious sci-fi drama whose enjoyment will solely hinge upon whether or not you liked the major twist at the end of the movie. If you liked it, you'll think Arrival is great. If not, you'll think it's simply good, but you'll start to piece together logical problems with the movie. Just to make it perfectly clear, Arrival is one of those movies you need to see for yourself to form an opinion on it. I can't tell you if you'll like it, I can only tell you if I thought it was good or not. So with that in mind, this review WILL HAVE SPOILERS for the major twist and I'll be discussing my thoughts about it. I waited a whole week in order to properly dissect this movie, so I'm not going to hold back. With that said, THIS IS YOUR FINAL CHANCE FOR SPOILERS.

Still here...? Okay.

Our story revolves around Amy Adams as a linguist whose hired on to talk with aliens. Aliens have landed in 12 spaceships across the world, and she's been brought on to examine the one that landed in Montana. The problem with these aliens is that while they appear non-violent, no one can understand what they're saying or what they want, so negotiations don't go anywhere. Amy Adams needs to translate their language, make them understand our own language, and find out what they want on Earth.

This is completely the thinking man's space invasion movie. This would be Independence Day if it wasn't an action blockbuster, or Signs if it wasn't stupid. There's only one action scene in the entire movie, and it's a throwaway one at that. This movie's first and only function is to be a story about Amy Adams as she just so happens to encounter aliens.

It actually seems a bit odd that the aliens, in their monolithic spaceships, aren't even the main characters in a movie about them coming to Earth, but it does make sense. Focus on the human reaction to these aliens and what people will say now that they realize that they're not alone in the universe.

This is a story about Amy Adams from start to finish, and she does an exceptional job here. She's able to show off a wide range of emotion in nearly ever scene she's in, but her best moments are when she's actually communicating with the aliens. As she's discovering how to communicate with them and say "damn it all" to the rules, I couldn't help watch her and root for her. 

Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner just to happen to be in this movie, but help me if I can't remember a single thing they did or say. They represented tropes more than being actual characters, with Whitaker being the gruff U.S. military official and Jeremy Renner being the scientist that bonds with Amy Adams. They're fine, if not entirely forgettable. 

I would like to talk about the aliens, but they're the least interesting things in the movie. Called the heptapods, they can only communicate by shooting out ink in circles to people. These ink circles can contain words, sentences, ideas, and function as monologues sometimes, which unique to say the least. I don't think that the idea of understanding aliens has ever been as fully explored as it is here. The aliens look generic, but at least the general concept behind them is fairly solid.

Oh, and everything is super enthralling to watch. Nearly everything in this movie is portrayed as a giant event, and most of the time it is. When Amy Adams first enters the spaceship, it's a solid 5 minutes of just the approach, looking at the door, going in the door, and walking up to the aliens. All the time, the shots of the movie feel foreboding and imposing. By this point we had no idea what the heptapods looked like, so the buildup to their eventual reveal succeeds on so many levels. That being said, the movie can drag for an eternity as it moves slowly from scene to scene. It wants you to feel oppressed, to feel confined, but instead the movie just moves at a glacial pace until the very end of the movie. 

And then comes the twist. The big twist that defines whether or not you'll like this movie or not. Last chance!

So for the entire movies, we've been getting a few shots and scenes of Amy Adams playing with her daughter, who eventually dies at the end of the first five minutes of the movie. It turns out though that all of those scenes weren't flashbacks, but flashforwards. The heptapods came to Earth in order to allow humans to understand their language, which can change their perception of time so they can see time at all points. In other words, the aliens can see the future and the past, but because their species is going to die in 3,000 years, they need humans to help save them by understanding their language. And Amy Adams just so happens to be the first person to understand them, but in turn she realizes that she has a daughter with Jeremy Renner, but she'll die no matter what Amy Adams does. 

That's... an okay twist. It's nothing terrible, and it certainly could have been a lot worse, but to take a a massive concept like "humanity reacted to an alien invasion", and making it instead about "someone can see the future and knows that their daughter will die" seems a little bit... underwhelming. 

Like, what if instead the aliens came to Earth still because they were going to die in 3,000 years, but instead of giving the gift of prognostication, they infected Amy Adams with a disease that the aliens had? It wouldn't be active until her daughter is born, but the disease that kills her daughter is the one that killed the heptapods, so humanity would now begin trying to create and antidote for it? That would have been fairly interesting and you can still include the dead daughter stuff for Amy Adams! As it stands though, the twist just goes to make the aliens even more worthless in the "Alien Invasion" movie. It's like if you had Pirates of the Caribbean where in the third act, Jack Sparrow realized that him being a pirate was just to get away from his estranged wife, so he leaves his crew to find her and confess how he loves her more than this crew. Didn't this used to be a pirate movie? What's with this sudden change in tone and mood?

I really didn't know what to expect from Arrival when I went in. I heard literally nothing about it until the day before, and even then it was at a solid 100% of Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone wanted to see this movie, and I was in a theatre that was completely sold out. I can tell that by the end of the movie, several people's reaction was "Oh... that was cool... I think?" Arrival isn't bad by any definition of the word. It's an interesting think piece that is doing way better than I thought it would, and I'm glad for it. This may be a surprising hit during the awards seasons, and I'd be perfectly okay with that. 

My biggest gripe is that the movie had me strung along by seeing where it was going, and when it finally played it's hand, it was just playing two pairs instead of the full house that I thought it would. Would that be a fault on my part though for having my expectations too high? Possibly, but I tried to enjoy the movie for what it was and not be so focused on "the big twist". For what it was, Arrival was a unique sci-fi movie that did something that a lot of other alien movies never made me do; it made me think about what we would do if we ever did encounter alien life. 


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