Debut Review – Arrival

Can you say fate?

It is fitting that my first blog review on this site is for a film entitled, Arrival – a movie about new encounters, going back to the future (semi-spoiler alert), and, in a way, reaching a new audience. I must admit this is my first “blog” ever. I also must admit that it is my first review that I have written in nine years (apologies to all my professors at the Temple University School of Communications and Theater).  It’s funny where this journey called life can take you. Nonetheless, they say if you truly love someone (or something, in this case), you can leave and the true strength of your love will always endure and bring you back.  The flame that is journalism has never been blown out in my heart. Consequently, I’m back to fuel that fire!

Well, enough with all the cheesy stuff. Let’s get down to business! Arrival is a sci-fi based drama starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The premise of the movie is that Louise (Adams) and Ian (Renner) are both world renowned linguists who have been recruited by the military, led by Colonel Weber (Whitaker), to communicate with an egg-shaped, half-moon looking UFO ship that randomly landed on Earth. In fact, it’s not just one ship, its 12 ships worldwide.

Louise and Ian lead the U.S. based team that is part of a worldwide coalition of other countries trying to figure out answers. It’s actually funny that the questions they need to ask are very relatable to everyone in their daily lives as well, particularly around this time of the year when dealing with friends and relatives: Why are you here? How long are you staying? Are you going to start any drama while you’re here? Etc…It’s hard to go into further details about this, however, without giving anything away.

I will say that the film does a good job of painting a realistic picture out of these potentially cataclysmic events – from the life-changing news coverage, to the military interactions. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) does a great job of turning this far-fetched story into a startling, slightly plausible reality. Just like in Prisoners and Sicario, he also does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re right there with the characters. You feel like you are right there walking up to the glass divider with Louise and Ian when they first interact with the heptapods (the term they use for the aliens). I also think the idea to have inkblots as the means of language by our guests from the other side is nothing short of genius.

But the thing that Villeneuve is most successful with in this film, in my opinion, is his ability to integrate the human element into an “alien” film. It is equivalent to the brilliance that Greg Nicotero and Co. have with The Walking Dead. They have been highly successful in somehow creating a zombie show that’s not even about the zombies. Arrival, in my humble opinion, winds up being more about the human element during an alien invasion. In the same way The Walking Dead title is an ironic metaphor for the living, Arrival describes arriving at a realization. You will understand more what I mean by that when you see the movie.

Once again, Amy Adams delivers an excellent performance that may wind up landing her an Oscar nomination. Whittaker and Renner are very solid as well. The academy tends to have an infatuation for space and sci-fi recently with such films such as Gravity and The Martian earning Best Picture acclamation in the past few years. Out of these three sci-fi adventures, while Gravity was death-defying and brilliant (I STILL have no idea how they weren’t actually in space when they made that movie), I believe Arrival is overall a better film than The Martian.  It is more visually stunning, has a better plot (yes, there is a twist) and a more thorough script. As a result, I expect to see Arrival in the Best Picture category this year.

I just want to say I am by no means a sci-fi fanatic. In fact, when I first heard of the film and saw the trailer, I was highly skeptical to say the least. Well, no, I flat-out said, “how does a movie about a woman communicating with aliens get a greenlight?!” However, I’m a man and when I am wrong, I have no problem admitting it. I. Was. Wrong.

I think Denis Villeneuve has created an instant classic here. This is a movie that will withstand the test of time and become a sci-fi staple like The Abyss, or Alien, or…Gravity. Aside from the great direction of Villieneuve, the haunting yet beautiful score by Johann Johannsson, and the superb performances (as usual) by Adams, Renner and Whitaker, Arrival is an overachiever that does something I thought I’d never say about a sci-fi film – it touches your heart.