Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Arrival

Title: Arrival

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:

James Woods: But as for me, I'm off to battle aliens on a faraway planet.
Marge: That sounds like a good movie!
James Woods: Yes, yes, a movie...yes.


Brief Plot Synopsis: Whaddya know? It's *not* a cookbook.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half Al Stewarts out of five.

Tagline: "Why are they here?"

Better Tagline: "Why is anybody here? I think it was Jean-Paul Sartre who once said...how do you spell 'Sartre?'

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Giant alien spaceships have taken position in 12 seemingly random locations around Earth. With no knowledge of their intentions, the powers that be — personified by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) — recruit Dr. Louisa Banks (Amy Adams), a cunning brilliant linguist, to assist them in communicating with the extraterrestrials. Along with metaphysicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Banks finds herself in a race against time to determine the aliens' intentions before other countries (China, Russia) decide to take matters into their own hands.

"Critical" Analysis: The cinematic concept of aliens landing on Earth is a hoary one, dating back to almost the dawn of film and really coming into its own in the 1950s, when extraterrestrial visitation usually meant “invasion” to a country growing increasingly paranoid in the midst of the Cold War. There were exceptions (The Day the Earth Stood Still, It Came From Outer Space), but it really wasn’t until the ’70s, after actual manned space flights, that a number of movies seriously entertained the idea that aliens might not be bent on annihilating/enslaving the human race after all.

The distinction is relevant, because Arrival has much more in common with E.T. than Invasion of the Saucer Men. And if we’re being honest, it’s not really about the aliens at all.

Sure, there are tentacle monstrosities from beyond the stars (dubbed “heptapods"...Google it), and their “arrival” leads to a widening gyre of global panic and political hysteria. But this is really background to Dr. Banks’s story, and how her work deciphering the aliens’ complex visual language both helps her in coping with a recent loss and gradually expands her awareness of the heptapods’ true intentions.

The “recent loss” bit comes in the opening scenes, and is a surprisingly brutal gut punch. Banks’s attempts to process this give Arrival its emotional framework (and Adams is exceptional), and one to which the alien invasion aspect of the plot is largely secondary. There are the usual conflicts between the scientists and their military supervisors, and glimpses of a world descending into panic at an unknowable threat, images that are depressingly realistic given the results of this week’s Presidential election.

So if you come into Arrival expecting Independence Day 3: The Arriving or Noam Chomsky's War of the Worlds, you’re going to be disappointed. This is a thoughtful film about heavy subject matter. Villeneuve’s previous American films were the murky Prisoners and the tightly wound Sicario, so it's no surprise his first foray into sci fi has a similar feel. The dark tones and rising tensions create a somber, apprehensive atmosphere that’s almost oppressive in its foreboding.

He’s also taken more than a few pages from Stanley Kubrick’s book, as the alien spacecraft are clearly inspired by the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And given the film’s eventual outcome (the twist you’ll probably see coming about halfway through in no way diminishes the finished product), you realize none of these people have ever seen either 2001 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Above all, it’s refreshing to have a science fiction movie that isn’t ashamed of emphasizing the “science” part of the equation. Nothing against Star Wars or the Divergent Hunger Maze Runner Games, but it’s nice to have two characters discuss something like linguistic relativity without having it explained to the audience by Margot Robbie in a bathtub.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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