Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Arrival


   There was a point in Arrival where I caught myself holding my breath. Something that I rarely do while watching movies unless it's a horror movie. It's the anticipation, you see. In Arrival, it was as we were getting our first glimpse of the aliens. It's such a thunderous and powerful moment, but not in the same way that Hollywood has been doing lately- or really, ever, for that matter. I'm hard pressed to recall more than a few movies about extraterrestrials that don't end with a patriotic display of heroism involving a ton of explosions and one liners. Arrival is one that doesn't.

   Arrival immediately finds itself among cinematic company of the highest caliber, inviting easy comparisons to movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet the movie is nothing like those two, really. Apart from the fact that they're all serious science fiction movies without an action/violence element to them. I found myself scanning online comments about the movie, which... is just, never a good idea. Ever. And, I found people calling it underwhelming and boring. "Meh." seemed to be the general attitude towards it. Nothing has made me so profoundly sad in so long.

   "It wasn't an action movie, and that made it suck." Devastating words right there. Arrival is one of the smartest, most intimate, moving and engrossing movies I've seen in a long time. While a lesser movie has its protagonists racing to find a super weapon to destroy their alien invaders, Arrival has its leads racing to try and understand these alien visitors. The movie never really suggests that they are invaders. Sure, the whole concept is insanely intimidating, but Arrival is smart enough to paint any trigger happy reactions as absurd and unwarranted. The movie handles the concept of first contact with all the scope and scale you could hope for, but with far more heart and emotion than I ever expected.

   As much as it is a movie about aliens, and finding common ground, it's also a movie about the human condition on a very personal level. It's a movie that tackles the concepts of loss, love, and what makes life worthwhile. But it weaves all these things together in a smart and calculating way. It approaches these things with subtlety, unlike movies such blunt as InterstellarThe Abyss, E.T. or Mission to Mars. And, while some of those are undeniably entertaining, there's always a point where everything 'clicks' and the mystery is gone, as is my interest in the movie. Arrival is too smart to let the wind out of its own sails like that. The movie functions like a well oiled machine, right up to the final frame.

   When everything 'clicks' in Arrival, it's not a blindsided twist or an anti-climactic revelation. Instead, it's the culmination of everything the characters in the movie have been working towards. It's an excellent climax, and a stunning third act to a movie that I found relentlessly fascinating throughout. Arrival is a very cerebral science fiction movie, one that is a perfect antidote to the kind of butter-saturated popcorn nonsense that are movies like Independence Day: Resurgence. Granted, sci-fi is a broad genre, with room for all kinds of stories in it. Some movies use sci-fi elements as a backdrop for an action movie, others for comedy- and that's perfectly okay... but...

   Nevertheless, Arrival doesn't just use sci-fi as a backdrop, it embraces the concept of a science fiction story itself, with the backdrop actually being a very human level drama. The idea that someone would dislike a sci-fi movie simply because aliens weren't the bad guys who needed to be blown up makes my brain hurt, and my heart sad. Sci-fi movies always prompted me to think big, to wonder about things. The best of sci-fi always spurred deep questions in me not only about the universe I live in, but about myself, humanity, and where we're headed as a species. Arrival is the kind of movie that would spur those same musings in a person. I know it did in me. It's fascinating, suspenseful, smart, and genuinely moving.

   I could write a whole 'nother article about the visuals of the movie, and about the cinematography, or how the camera moves through each scene with recurring visual cues, but what I truly walked away from the movie feeling was a massive sense of wonder. That speaks for itself. The acting is fantastic all the way around, the story is great, and I loved it. Basically, there are two ends of the spectrum. The kind of movie where the guy who launches nukes at the aliens is a good guy, and the kind of movie where he's the bad guy. This is the latter. But, I'm over simplifying things. Arrival is above the kind of simplistic good/bad thing. It's a movie that doesn't need a villain, or big action set pieces. Its leads don't have to outrun a CGI apocalypse... they just have to try and communicate with some beings very different to us. I couldn't imagine a more perfect movie for this day and age.

   Go see it. I couldn't recommend it more.

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