Sci-fi films have, over the past few years, developed a formula that we have all gotten used to. Aliens arrive and blow stuff up and humanity retaliates as aggressively as possible. Don’t get wrong; that’s okay. Independence Day and all the others out there like it are usually pretty good and, like said about Kong: Skull Island, they serve as great movies when you just want some escapism. This was what I was expecting from Arrival, although the trailers suggested very early on that there was going to be something very different about this sci-fi film. Be warned SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!
The first time I saw this film I thought it was amazing. Finally, an alien film that is about more than just explosions and war! Arrival examines the invasion of Earth by extra-terrestrials in a way that no movie has ever done before. It takes everything you expect from a film like this and turns it completely on its head. It also asks questions previously ignored by much of what has come before it; language.
This film is driven by plot over character. Aliens arrive and the aim of the game is to find out what they want before a war breaks out. Adam’s character is there to find out what their purpose on Earth is and spends most of films going through that process. It isn’t as laborious as it sounds; the film takes time to explore the aliens as well as the protagonists of the film. Amy Adams, playing Doctor Banks a language specialist who is drafted in to help communicate with the aliens almost immediately after they land. Right from the start we know there is a bigger story going on with Doctor Banks, all the way through the film we are given insights into her life but just when you think you’ve figured out her story Arrival turns it on its head.
Adam’s is a great actress, there isn’t a film that I have seen her that I haven’t enjoyed, but this film isn’t her best. She plays her part well but is let down by her interactions with Jeremy Renner’s character Ian. Whenever they are on screen together the atmosphere seems to vanish. The flashes of another time of Adam’s life suggest there is a love interest somewhere in her story. It became relatively obvious it was Renner and that it wasn’t flash backs we were seeing but in fact, flash forwards, half way through the film. Once that realisation has happened this film becomes a lot more interesting.
It’s safe to say that now I have seen this film more than once I have developed mixed feelings for it. The inclusion of lots of science and language and philosophical concepts makes it a fascinating film to watch if you like your sci-fi to come with some form of lesson with it but at times it does exclude the viewers who does have more than a basic idea of what things mean. At times I found myself wondering what they were talking about and had to figure it out based on the actions that followed their conversations. This does risk Arrival turning into a film that is not for everybody but despite this, even if you only watch it for the aliens you won’t be disappointed.
The concept put forward, eventually, by the writers, is that the aliens, named Heptapods, do not have a liner concept of time as we do. Everything you think you have learned up to this point suddenly takes on a whole new meaning and if you miss that one small comment by Doctor Banks it can make this film very confusing. Up to this point I was slowly losing interest but when the idea of a non-liner plot was presented the whole thing suddenly got much better. There are very few films out there that dare to do this and I think it was a brave choice to do it with a sci-fi film when you already have a lot process. It works well with Arrival though, they pulled it off well.
If you are good at putting plots together, solving mysteries you will probably see the end of this film coming a mile off. I was a bit slow at picking it up until the time concept was presented, after that it was nearly an hour of waiting to see whether or not I was right and this where Arrival fails a bit. It is far too long and once you know the key plot point the ending becomes inevitable. But, despite that, it is a very moving film with unique ideas for the genre that it falls into. Adams is a credit to the cast and the script is incredible.
I’d say four out of five stars, give it a try! Enjoy!