Review: Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve continues a startling winning streak with high-concept sci-fi Arrival.

A language specialist has her life changed when the world is visited by twelve monolithic alien objects, hovering above the ground with no sign of intent. Brought in to try and communicate with the entities, she finds the experience and the trials inexplicably tethered to her own personal loss.

It is safe to say that science fiction is my favourite genre of storytelling, it would be my first choice if someone were to ask me. Of course, there’s good sci-fi and there is very bad sci-fi, but if there’s one thing science fiction can do is open an audience’s eyes to bigger, grander possibilities and touch on our humanity at the same time. Arrival does exactly that.
Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as language specialist Louise and scientist Ian (stop sniggering, Renner is a scientist in this film) the film is all about communication, unity and the overcoming of fear and doubt. Reminding audiences of 1997’s Contact and even the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still from 1951, the film wants to address the fracturing nature of human civilization and the self-destructive irrational fear of the unknown. It attempts to tell a story about how simple misunderstandings (and lack of commitment to understand) can lead to terrible consequences.

So conceptually I love this film, and is startlingly contemporary given our current global political situation, in implementation Villeneuve has delivered his signature style into the genre with flying colours. He always keeps the camera steady with sweeping panning shots, allowing for some awesome visual experiences, allowing the surreal and heady atmosphere to seep in. There’s a real sense of what our characters are feeling and sensing.
It isn’t without his grim realism, as seen in Prisoners and Sicario, but this only adds to the story’s compelling nature and design. The musical score is also surrealist, composed by Johann Johannsson who has consistently worked beside Villeneuve so far.

Sadly a lot of audiences will feel alienated by Arrival. There’s an unwritten rule in blockbuster cinema right now that “science fiction = action”, and Arrival is a far more cerebral and contemplative experience than many might expect. It isn’t over-complicated, but it makes you think and reflect on what aspects of humanity are being affected…
Renner and Adams are an odd pairing for Villeneuve (having worked with mega stars such as Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Emily Blunt) and while Amy Adams really delivers a quality performance, Renner sticks out a little. It isn’t a bad performance, but he feels shadowed by everything else in the movie.

It is a gorgeous, original science fiction film with a compelling contemporary feel. If you enjoy high science fiction, like Ex Machina or Contact, check it out! Plus, this is Villeneuve’s first sci-fi picture before he tackles the questionable Blade Runner sequel. This cutting of his teeth has given me some hope!

Just… do me a favour… don’t watch the trailer! I feel as though I would have enjoyed this even more had the trailer not given so much of it away.


Additional Marshmallows: Man, we really need aliens to arrive… maybe that new perspective will sort out our collective idiocy…

[ Like I said, no trailer for you. I refuse to actively spoil it for you! ]

5 Comments Add yours

  1. wotsbooks says:

    Literally just returned from seeing this. I loved it. I don’t want to hype it too much because it’s a wonderfully slow burner. Beautifully shot with a wonderful soundtrack too. Thought provoking at a time where reflection couldn’t be more welcome. Stop reading reviews and go and see it.

    1. cinemacocoa says:

      Absolutely agree wotsbooks!
      Don’t read reviews and don’t watch the trailer, just trust that it is a great high-concept sci-fi.

      1. wotsbooks says:

        I think I’m like you, I find that trailers often give far too much away and as for spoilers and behind the scene details before the film is released…..arghhhhhhhhhh

        1. cinemacocoa says:

          My rule for good trailers are they should never go beyond the protagonist’s Turning Point!
          And yes, people know SO much about movies before they are even released now due to media outlets needing hits and clicks on their sites. Plus leaked scripts and on-set photos, it is very hard to experience a film blind anymore.

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