Release Date: November 11, 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Forest Whitaker, Mark O’Brien, Sangita Patel, Tzi Ma, Abigail Pniowsky, Nathaly Thibault, Jadyn Malone, Ruth Chiang, Julia Scarlett Dan, Russell Yuen, Joe Cobden, Pat Kiely Larry Day, Leisa Reid, Anana Rydvald, Julian Casey, Andrew Shaver, Frank Fiola
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes
Production Company: 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, Paramount Pictures
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Budget: $50,000,000 (estimated)
Of course, you’ve seen alien films before. They’ve been hitting theaters left and right for a great number of years now. No one wants more of the same, and that’s why Arrival seems so intriguing. There was no violence or destruction in the marketing. It’s sold for figuring out the mystery. The why, where, and what are the lingering questions. The moral compass in the film is so huge it’s breathtakingly immeasurable on the positive side. That doesn’t mean this film is a masterpiece. It started so strong with the best upbeat lift towards the middle. While not much is perfect, the underlying message is, and if you look closely enough this entertaining epic is a small example of what could save the world.
For such a day where alien pods come hovering down all over the earth, you want to know what’s going on as soon as possible. The film covers this within the first few seconds, but doesn’t break away to showcase character development. You get to know all the characters at the exact time they’re trying to figure out what’s going on. While I love Independence Day (1996), they took a different approach, teasing you of an alien ship hovering over the moon, then cutting to family moments with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. Here Dr. Louis Bank’s (Amy Adams) jaw drops just like the audiences, and you’re at the edge of your seat with a million questions. There’s so much you want to know about their number, their location, and their purpose. And just like in real life there’s the logical way to approach things and the idiotic. Fortunately, the governments of the world took the former approach, which gets you behind the film even more. One plot of the film is to work together. As we all know, some will and some won’t, and the way Arrival approached this was spot on.
The performances were some of the best of the year, coming from Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. Renner is most known as being a bad ass fighting machine, but to see him as a socially awkward nerd was a nice addition. He wasn’t as great as the Oscar winner Mr. Whitaker though. He was a strong militant man who just wanted the best for all. Each character in the film is a piece on a global chess board, all with their different abilities and levels of power. To see the actor/actresses try to remain professional, staying in their lane, but so eager for answers was nail bitingly tense. Every mannerism of fear and frustration was understood to the utmost degree, and you’ll eat it all up.
Another positive note was the aliens themselves and everything they encompassed. When you see a lot of films an ego can develop that you’ve seen it all before, but that’s not the case here. The aliens in the film were ever so creative to a level I never thought of before. Their sense of gravity was so warped, and their biology was so drastically different from our own, to a level that’s incomprehensible. That alone is another reason why the film is so great. There is this challenge of understanding something you didn’t even know existed. Then in addition to that, the film delivers a lengthy montage of the progression over time, making you tap your feet wanting to dance at a club. It was so fun to learn even if it is science fiction.
Though this is where the film takes a break and slows down from what came before. Earlier you were on what felt like an endless ride of excitement, like having the best party ever in a limo and then the driver must pull over for a bathroom break. The party is still going on, but isn’t moving to the same beat as it did before. That wouldn’t be a problem if the context matched what came previously. Prior to this, the film focused on the aliens and what their purpose is. That plot line is never abandoned, but another one is picked up that’s not so interesting about Dr. Bank’s personal life and feelings. It’s nice to know characters more, but her life was used as a tool to help explain what the purpose of the film was. It wasn’t as strong as it could have been, leaving too many loose ends to organize.
You could imagine there would be a significant amount of scientific theories that are in the film that geeks will address for years. This is just another example of clever writing that will have you doing research well after the film is released. There’s so many illustrations of how people are today, within the ignorance of fear, but the film also shows how fear can be used as a tool. The moral of the film is to unite and understand those different from you. Even if you are at the top, the film addresses how you can still open your mind for an even better understanding to magnify your existence light years beyond where it is now. While the message is strong, the trip to get there wasn’t as smooth as the first half of the film. Though when it hits it speaks volumes and is welcomed without being too preachy.