Movie Review: Arrival (2016)

Updated on February 12, 2017

That's right folks, when 12 gigantic space probes inexplicably appear on our little ol' town called Earth, Lois Lane, Hawkeye and Saw Gerrera (incidently all characters struggling to find a purpose to exist in their respective franchises) team up with the director of Sicario to figure out just what the heck is going on.

It's a sad reality that we live in, where I have witnessed, with my own eyes, people giving up the chance to see this movie because they haven't recovered from the traumatizing experience that was Indepecence Day: Resurgence, when, in fact, to say Arrival is a thinking man's Independence Day is an insult to this movie, and to all thinking men in general.

Writing this review at this point is your dictionary-approved definition of being "late to the party", the public consensus is solid, critics love it, and the biggest complaint surrounding the movie is that Amy Adams wasn't nominated for "Best Actress" at the Academy Awards, despite the movie's impressive eight nominations in other categories, so there's really no point shying away from SPOILERS at this point.

Arrival is, at first glance, another entry in the long over-saturated family of alien-visiting-earth sci-fi flick, and that much rings true from the perspective of its concept. However, the movie progresses like a slow-burn mystery, centering on the solving of aliens' motivation, as in, "the heck y'all doing here?" But in the end, we realize it's actually a character-driven drama that happens to involve extraterrestrial life-form.

This is the story of Louise, the linguist played by Amy Adams, from start to finish, which came as a surprise because I envisioned it as a) a scientific adventure of a main group, or b) a realistic style documentation of a "contact" event from various perspectives. Maybe the marketing tricked me with their impressive location posters with giant spheres and the trailer with Chinese TV news (which hilariously included a piece of scrolling news about soybean price rising), but I certainly didn't expect Arrival to be so personal.

And because it's played out from a personal perspective, the movie took its sweet time to build up suspense. Yes we all knew what the "shells" look like going in, but that didn't stop the movie from holding back a full reveal for a good 20 minutes. But when it did come, boy the pan-shot is breathtakingly beautiful! Courtesy to the stunning cinematography of Bradford Young, who may just get an Oscar since Emmanuel Lubezki mercifully took a year off.

Come to think of it, it's a neat analogy to the whole movie. A mystery unraveled at a slow pace that might put off some audience, but the conclusion it eventually culminates towards is so rewarding that it's worth every second.

Unfortunately, Arrival's strong suits also limit its appeal for mainstream moviegoers, because it IS slow-paced, but at the same time demands absolute attention, and that's not a particularly inviting combination. Heck, even with otherworldly attention, the movie requires at least a second viewing to fully appreciate. Could it be that it's too clever for its own good?

Perhaps. But who's complaining? It's not everyday that Hollywood delivers a sci-fi based movie that actually respects its audience. The end twist, a somewhat broken trope by now, manages to be both mindblowing and emotional, which is not as easy as it looks. Incidentally, this is where most concept-oriented horror movies pale, because they simply cannot deliver a satisfying payoff worthy of its buildup.

Good thing is, Arrival definitely is worth watching multiple times. Maybe the twist is what you'll take away walking out the theatre, but there's a ton of "everything else" to be discovered on Blu-ray rewatches.

All compliments aside, I think we can agree the subplot involving a few soldiers who "watched too much TV" secretly placing a bomb which injures one of the aliens feels largely out of place and unnecessary. Supposedly this aggravates the situation to the brink of all out warfare, but what difference does it make in context?

At that point of the story, China was already preparing to attack the shells, the incident was glossed over by both their superiors and the surviving alien, who went on to instruct Louis to "use technology" anyway. Are movies demanded by contract to include at least one explosion?

It's almost like Lois Lane's role in BvS, sure figuring out that Lex Luthor was the evil force behind everything was a testament to her investigative skills and character, but by that time, Luthor already confessed, therefore it has no bearing to the plot. Sorry for throwing BvS under the bus a lot in my reviews, but that movie frustrates me.

And that's probably the extent of my problems with Arrival. Yep just that one little thing. Otherwise it is a spectacular journey that bears certain DNA from former greats such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, and yes, even Interstellar.

The movie strikes the right cords with almost perfect precision. It delivers a thought-provoking but also deeply personal mystery that ends up being an emotional ride. The only legit reason why Amy Adams was passed over by the Academy that I can think of, is that she's such an amazing actress that Louis doesn't even compare to her more challenging roles.

Just don't confuse it with The Arrival, another alien sci-fi movie from 20 years ago, the majority of which is Charlie Sheen making hilarious facial expressions.

Having seen Arrival, there is little question that Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, and the perfect candidate for helming the long-anticipated Blade Runner 2049.

Final score: 9/10.

P.S.: Just because the score is in bold font does not mean it should be taken too seriously. Peace.


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