Sci-fi has developed into something that can be categorized fairly easily these days. After generations tuning in to see the plethora of adventures in space fighting against aliens and sometimes humans, we tend to know what to expect from these film. I guess that’s where Arrival differentiates from the usual. It’s a sci-fi picture, but it’s certainly not conventional.
Arrival finds college professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) being asked to translate for the United States government. She’s done this kind of job for them in the past, but the subjects that she’s asked to study and work with in this scenario present a whole new level of issues since they’re beings from another planet. With the help of a team of translators and scientists, the expert linguist is put in a situation that might change the world or maybe even end it if there are too many wrong moves while trying to find out why these aliens decided to make contact.
There’s a steady and subdued approach to the picture right from the beginning. It allows for a movie to be slow and maybe even emotionally cold to some. In a time when people would feel an enormous amount of angst and fear, one would think that kind of energy would be seen in a more palpable way even if the actual players at the center of it are calm in the face of such monumental events. While you can see a bit of that, it doesn’t translate as well as it should.
To keep this tone and pace going, the actors are asked to mirror this approach and act along those lines through all of it. These factors can held create an exhilarating yet tranquil experience if handled properly, but the film itself needs to be moving at a faster speed. In Arrival, the pace doesn’t really pick up much until we get closer to its conclusion. This won’t bother you much at the start since you’ll likely be attempting to rationalize and understand everything about the world that exist within these cinematic parameters.
However, this slower pace does manage to take its toll in certain parts of the second act as things become a bit tedious. During this point, you may find yourself wanting the proceedings to move along at a more rapid pace as you’re looking to become engaged. If you can make it through this portion of the picture, you’ll likely be fine with what comes after it as things do pickup and actually start moving like a movie should do after its set up in the early going.
To assist in getting us through this difficult segment, Arrival offers us an unnecessary and artificial conflict. Not only that, but it’s very easy to see coming and doesn’t even have any sort of payoff. This leads me to believe that its only purpose appears to be to add a source of conflict with the hopes of keeping some members of the audience from falling asleep. I don’t know about you, but I would have preferred them just shortening and speeding up the movie a bit and allowing us to go home a little earlier.
Instead of setting up a part of the movie that shouldn’t have even been included, the makers of Arrival should have focused on setting up the twist that we get at the end. Personally, I liked the twist, but it could have been handled better. Really, all they needed to do was improve the opening scene. After you watch the movie, it may throw you off, but it also makes the story line feel somewhat disjointed. Watching it a second time allows you to make sense of that scene, but you shouldn’t have to do that if it’s done well enough.
During my first viewing, I figured out what was happening before the twist was revealed, but I know people who didn’t see it coming and missed the hints completely. As a matter of fact, I missed almost all of the hints myself, but I was able to pretty much figure it out on my own since the film doesn’t do a good enough job of leaving enough solid clues behind when watching it the first time. This issue lies clearly at the feet of the director as he doesn’t do what’s necessary to put the correct details on display like he should have.
This sci-fi drama is the kind of movie that requires multiple viewings in order to either grasp it or fully understand it. Watching it the second allows you to see things from a different perspective. Unfortunately, I don’t know if this is the kind of movie that people will even give a chance. When most of us think of sci-fi, we think of Star Wars or some other big budget adventure with guns, lasers and a host bad guys chasing after our protagonist. However, this is something that doesn’t really have any of that and is slower than it needs to be.
This may work for critics and hardcore cinephiles, but I can’t say if it will work for people who are just looking to be entertained. With that said, Arrival turns out to be a fine movie that is restricted from being great by its slow pace and a structure that may potentially prevent some from enjoying the twist that it has waiting for us at the end. Fixing those issues and removing the unnecessary conflict would remedy just about all of what’s wrong with it. None of this is to say that you can’t enjoy it, but it does mean that there could have been more to relish in.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Film Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
- Score - 6.5/106.5/10