Dead on 'Arrival'...

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Robert Wetzel

If you are a regular reader of this column, you will likely remember that I saw the alien contact movie ‘Arrival’ at the Telluride Film Festival.  Starring Amy Adams, the film is now out in general release and fighting with ‘Dr. Strange’ for your movie dollar, so I thought it appropriate to revisit the film and see if I felt any differently about it a couple of months later.  With all due respect to my fellow film reviewers the world over who are raving about ‘Arrival’, I have to say: “Nope”.  I still think that it is a derivative, confusing and generally poorly acted film.  With pretensions of greatness, and an excellent premise, there is so much left on the table in story, plot development and acting.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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To quickly outline the plot, giant alien ‘pods’ (why are they always pods?) start appearing around the world.  The giant eggs are ominous, primarily due to the fact that they don’t DO anything.  But once each day, the pods open their doors.  Is that an invitation or a trap?  And how do we figure it out without a means of communication?

Enter world-renowned linguist Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams.  Dragging a ton of baggage behind her, Banks becomes the leader of a group who enter the pods in an attempt to establish a basis of communication.  Using her skills as a linguist and her ‘last chance in life’ courage, Banks steps up to the window that separates the aliens from their human visitors and begins to discover a form of language and a basis of communication.  But, of course, this is a government/military operation and their core principles – ‘if I don’t understand it, it must be an enemy’ – dominate the interactions.  As Banks rushes to decode the intentions of the aliens, her counterparts move equally quickly to prepare for an attack on the ‘invaders’.  World politics intrudes – stereotypes of the bad Russians and Chinese ignoring the input of the good Americans; and the countdown to zero hour amps up the suspense.  But all’s well that ends well… enough spoiler alert.

With nods to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Contact' and similar alien encounter films, this one just didn't grab me as those did.  The plot is just too formulaic, particularly with the hokey countdown to disaster that Banks’ linguistic discoveries stop just in the nick of time.  Science triumphs over militarism and suspicion: but it always does in these films. 

I'll admit that there are some good moments in 'Arrival’.  Adams performance, while convoluted and lacking in clarity of back-story, is very good in the moment.  And the overall theme of communication and how misunderstandings among 'people' trying to communicate can lead to potentially disastrous results is compelling.  But the film, the performances and the outcome are just a bit too predictable for my taste.  Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker certainly don't help, with lackluster performances as a scientist and military commander participating in the process. Here are two excellent actors who are not given anything compelling to do – and so they don’t.

If you loved the films noted above; if you are a big science fiction fan; or if you just believe that 'they are out there', you may enjoy 'Arrival'.  See it and make up your own mind.  If you do like it, you will be in good company.


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