Arrival is one of those films that when you first see the theatrical trailer for it just cries out to you. It screams that you must see me. Who knows. Maybe it’s the aliens in the film calling out to me. I don’t know but whatever it was I was smitten by the first trailer I saw. I knew that as soon as I saw Amy Adams trying to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors that I must see this one. If she’s good enough for Superman, she’s good enough for me. Couple that with the fact that we have the mind (Denis Villeneuve) behind Prisoners and Sicario in the director’s chair here and you have an event that I wouldn’t dare missing out on. As an added bonus it’s science fiction too. So in other words Arrival already had me at hello. Now let’s review this science-fi odyssey.
Paramount’s Arrival is written by Eric Heisserer based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by author Ted Chang. In addition to Amy it stars Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma. Everyone I know that attended this past Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX had nothing but “fantastic” things to say about this film. I guess one could always instantly come to the only logical conclusion. Let’s be serious. How can a movie featuring both Amy Adams and aliens possibly be anything except good? That’s the hypothesis I was willing to prove here.
Think of Arrival as an exercise in being proactive before all hell breaks loose. Remember how in the one and only Independence Day multiple big spaceships appear around the world? So picture this. Big, flat, egg-shaped spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. In an effort to be “proactive” linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) ends up leading a team of investigators to figure out a way to communicate with the “aliens” before the nations start a global war. Banks and her crew race against time to devise a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. After all, there’s a mystery to be solved here. Why are they here? What do they want? Banks takes a chance that threatens both her life and quite possibly all of mankind by not backing down. What’s life without risks and rewards, right?
The interesting thing about Arrival is not just what do the aliens look like, but the thrill of how the hell one can possibly bridge this communication gap of the languages. It’s also very hard to talk about this essential moments of Arrival in a review. To do so would risk the chance of spoiling the big reveal. Just know this. Arrival may be small on budget, but its big on surprises. However, when I surprises I don’t mean bang bang, shoot ’em up action sequences like you’d expect from an alien invasion movie. Oh no! I’m talking big on twists and deep in meaning. Don’t think of this as an alien invasion film, but instead simply an “arrival” one as the title implies. Don’t worry. It will all make sense when you see it.
I already mention up above what makes Arrival tick for me. However, what makes Arrival a bit tedious for me is the slow pacing and choppy storytelling at times. The thrilling moments are when we are discovering the aliens, language and the overall vessel with Adams’ character firsthand. The wearisome parts are the overdone dramatic moments and endless flashbacks, but alas they have their place too. If you can get past an alien ship’s doors opening every 18 hours to the public, then like the rest of the Rotten Tomatoes crowd I think you’ll fair well with this one. Just don’t go in expecting another Prisoners or Sicario from Villeneuve. Arrival is anything but. It’s an odd choice for the director, but an amazing exercise in what he can do with a small budget.
Truth be told had it not been for the twist and strong performances here highlighted by moments of tension and suspense, I would not be a fan at all of Arrival. It moves like molasses at times and you really need to be patient with it. And oh yeah, I hope you’re not coming here for any desire or anticipation to see any kind of action. There ain’t none of that to be found here. It’s a deep emotional tale with a clear payoff with no bird poop as a cop out. You just need to wait for it. There’s a reason why this movie is so popular with the critics, but I can clearly understand why some viewers will be ultimately turned off from it. In my opinion, it will be interesting to see what the Rotten Tomato meter will display once this opens up nationwide this week to moviegoers everywhere. We shall see. Until then…enjoy.