February 12, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: ARRIVAL

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O'Brien. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. (2016, 116 min).

When Interstellar was released, some comparisons were drawn to 2001: A Space Odyssey. While not as ambiguous or visually groundbreaking, it was equally cerebral and conceptually ambitious, not to mention a similar painstaking attention to detail regarding the logistics of time and space travel.

If Interstellar is the 2001 for a new century, then Arrival can see viewed as this generation's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a lonely linguistics expert and college professor whose life (and everyone else's) is disrupted by the arrival of 12 massive, almond-shaped ships which land at various locations around the world. She's then recruited by the Army, led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to work with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in an effort to establish communication with a ship in Montana. This is an enormous and time consuming challenge, since the language of these aliens - who resemble a cross between squid and elephants - is not only nonlinear, but not even spoken (they 'speak' through circular blotches formed by spewing ink-like smoke from their tentacles).

"Some advanced race, Ian...all their pens leak."
Though troubled by flashbacks of the daughter she lost to cancer (and yes, it's ultimately relevant to the story), Louise slowly makes progress. But while she deduces the visitors are benevolent, China, led by General Shang (Tzi Ma), has interpreted the alien message as a threat. One by one, other nations begin to concur, including the United States. It's at this point the movie starts to defy the audience's expectations and reveal some considerable surprises you aren't likely to see coming.

The world's biggest almond...one of Montana's most popular tourist attractions.
Arrival is an intelligent, ideas-driven science-fiction film along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounter of the Third Kind. Deliberately paced with an emphasis on dialogue and raising discussion-worthy questions, there's little in the way of actual spectacle (though it's still visually impressive). While the climax may be underwhelming in that respect, it delivers a satisfying emotional and intellectual payoff. The film is also elevated by another Oscar-worthy performance from Adams, who doesn't even appear to be acting here.

Not quite as emotionally resonant as Interstellar - though its mind-bending concept is arguably more solid - Arrival is thoughtful, smart and entertaining sci-fi. Its cerebral story and outstanding performances make it the kind of film the viewer thinks about long afterwards, pondering the choices they would make had they been in the same situation. That alone makes Arrival worth revisiting more than once.

"Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival"; "Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design"; "Eternal Recurrence: The Score"; "Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process"; "Principles of Time, Memory & Language"

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