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Dec 19, 2003

ARRIVAL (2016)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

In 2016, we naively expect the scripts that play out in Hollywood films to be smarter than we are. We are used to big-budget movies with twists, shimmies, roundabouts, and gut-wrenching surprises. Our sensibilities have been completely spoiled by science fiction movies that have already successfully drawn on technology, philosophy, scientific theory, and warmonger overtones in artfully moving ways. When a movie like "Arrival" appears that tries to be subtle or "complex" instead of direct, it is held up to somewhat impossible standards, but the odd thing is that when it only marginally lives up to these ideals, audiences will still cheer and applaud due to being tricked by a false sense of "deepness".

What we actually get in the movie Arrival is a story that is not as smart as it could be. It's as if an ambitious philosophy 101 student's speculative final essay was audited by a freshman drama major - it got dumbed down a little. The thoughtfully incorporated ideas are betrayed by the shallow inclusion of maudlin scenarios, which seem to be lifted from one or two Lifetime movies. To be blunt, this isn't really a Science Fiction film. It shows loose affiliations with one, but those parts of the film are merely thrown in to support a waffling story centered in human emotions. In fact, that is (perhaps) why the film only partially resolves the science aspects of the film, preferring to spend an inordinate amount of time with the lead character expressing frustration and fear, which is odd for a character who is supposedly so rational that she has a PhD.

Amy Adam's lead character is written in like a big, wet sponge sitting in a bathtub filled with her own tears of uncertainty, dragging the movie down from any visceral wonder or surprise you may feel in the film regarding the alien life forms and their reasons for arriving on Earth. There is a portion of the film where she also spends approximately 15 minutes breathing heavily and being anxious as she approaches and then finally enters the alien spacecraft. I have a feeling that it was intended to induce hyperventilation in the audience, leaving them breathless with anticipation, huffing the air in their empty popcorn bags to calm their tensions. Mission Control should have simply increased the oxygen level in her spacesuit, or had the foley editor turn the volume down on the wheezing track one or two clicks.

The rest of the characters are written in with expendable and predictable support roles, leaving the lead heroine in a position where she essentially has to tell the entire story herself. The problem is, the story is just not that interesting when coming from a monotone perspective. Add in some hocus-pocus in the form of sumi-e hieroglyphs, an underdeveloped love story, enemy nations exhuming motivations from the Vietnam Era, a few mysteries based on fractions, and finally, a generous extra sprinkle of sadness with a sickly child character, and what you are left with is a mopey, moody movie I would actually put in the genre of "Cry-Fi".

Ultimately, the movie does attempt to escape this manifest destiny by keeping you interested with its cinematic qualities, and tacking on a "happy" ending. However, as a whole, the movie fails to edit out the slow moments, never really focusing on any of its A-game elements, which could have made the movie more fulfilling, engaging and mysterious.

SCORE: 1/12 (a joke - actual score: 3/5)

Tagline: They arrived in spacechips. They left because we didn't provide any guacamole.


Apr 14, 2006


It was a modern and not-as-good Slaughterhouse 5, but still pretty good for cinema sci-fi. 4/5

Jul 17, 2009

If I could be disappointed I would be. It's really just Avatar 3 without the genuine emotional depth and political commentary. Also I don't appreciate it spoiling literally every movie.


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