Have you ever had one of those moments when your personal view on something seems to be at odds with what everyone else is thinking? To the point where you almost don’t think you should say anything? You think ‘I’ll just keep quiet and perhaps no-one will ask’. Doesn’t work when you decide to write movie reviews though.
Arrival is based on a short story from Ted Chiang called Story of Your Life. The man charged with the script is Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street (the 2010 remake), Final Destination 5) and the man charged with the camera is Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners), he of the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049 film.
Arrival tells the story of a linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, Amy Adams (American Hustle, Man of Steel), who is brought in by the US Army to try to communicate with some newly landed aliens. She has the help of Ian Donnelly, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, Avengers Movies) who’s a scientist. They both report into the always annoyed Colonel Weber, Forest Whitaker (Platoon, The Last King of Scotland) who barks orders and just wants to know why these aliens are here, what do they want?
If you decide to watch Arrival and have expectations of some alien invasion with guns and war and stuff, you’ll leave about as disappointed as you can be. I didn’t have those expectations but I still got something I wasn’t expecting…if that makes any sense at all?
What I got was a story that is actually about Banks and how language or communication can help or hinder us. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language even remotely? Someone who doesn’t understand your basic expressions? We stick with Banks and, to a lesser extent, Donnelly as they attempt to communicate with the aliens, to get to the point of deciphering why they are here.
I should, obviously, discuss the aliens. They spend all of the movie ‘hidden’ behind a large glass-type aperture within their space-ship. In the space they occupy it’s all ‘foggy’, as if they are continuously smoking dope, whereas the space Banks etc occupy is as clear as a whistle. What you do see of the aliens reminded me a lot of cousin It from The Addams Family. Yes, they look like hands, great big, black hands.
The aliens and humans begin to communicate in weird, circular, Rorschach-esq patterns and all is fine until the word ‘weapon’ appears. Once this happens all hell breaks loose and China decide they suddenly don’t like what’s going on and want to go it alone. Russia, Pakistan and a few others follow suit and before long, all countries are doing their own thing, believing the aliens on the brink of an attack.
That’s everyone besides Banks obviously. She believes the word weapon could mean something different to how we see it, perhaps, for instance, it means tool? Anyway, after many anguished looks from Banks, some ‘visions’ and a weird trip into the ship that looks like you’re watching the film through a privacy-glass bathroom window, the day is saved. Of course it is. Did you expect anything else?
I know a lot of people have really liked Arrival but I’m afraid it didn’t do it for me. It’s slow, there are sub-plots that go nowhere, characters who are as thin as paper and aliens that look like hands…but seriously, their reasoning aren’t given. Perhaps you are meant to come up with it yourself, as you have to do with a lot of the film. It’s ambitious but the payoff is weak and unsatisfying. I think I’ll lower any expectations I may have had for Blade Runner 2049, and that’s the most depressing thing ever.