FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

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Sci-fi films involving aliens coming to earth is a dime a dozen. So it’s so refreshing to see a film that treads a familiar ground, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the premise of ARRIVAL is deceptively simple. One day, twelve alien ships land all over earth, one of them in is Montana, USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) was teaching at her college when the world came to a standstill watching the breaking news reporting the aliens arrival. Soon Louise is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, or not one I remember well anyway. Apparently director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language, which is utterly fascinating to see on film. It looks like a circular thing made out of black ink called the logograms. The alien creatures (which they dubbed ‘heptapods’) have a squid-like form with tentacles that they use to ‘write’ these logograms onto a frosty glass wall that separate them from the humans when they visit their spaceship. There’s quite a suspense the first time we saw these heptapods, but as the film progresses, it’s apparent that this film is so much more than an alien movie or stories about aliens. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival.

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The story also deals with the notion of time, which I can’t quite begin to explain. I have to admit it took me a while to grasp just what is going on, as Louise’s time decoding the alien language is interspersed with remembrance of Louise’s daughter. To say more about this might get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the mother/daughter story is an emotional one. By the end of the film, we’re not asking so much about how and why the aliens got to earth, but it makes us ponder about love, loss, and the ‘choices’ that we make in life.

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Amy Adams‘ quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. I have seen quite a few of her stellar work and this could be her best performance yet. Perhaps 2017 would be the year the 5-time Academy Award nominee is finally a ‘bride’ instead of the the ‘bridesmaids’ at the Oscar. Jeremy Renner gives a strong supporting performance here as the mathematician partner of Louise, he has a pretty effortless chemistry with Adams and was quite the comic relief in some scenes. I thought the Abbott and Costello reference was quite a hoot. Unfortunately Forest Whitaker isn’t given that much to do in this film, neither is Michael Stuhlbarg.

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I have to say that people who have little patience for slow-paced films could be potentially frustrating. In fact, the guy next to me actually dozed off and snored loudly after about a half hour, it’s too bad as he missed out on the best parts of the film. For me, it’s such a treat to see a visceral and emotionally-complex film, especially with a female protagonist at the center, so I was engrossed from start to finish. The eerie music by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds a creepy and mysterious feel to the film, it’s deliberately somber yet enigmatic. I still prefer Jóhannsson’s work in Sicario but this one is certainly excellent in its own right.

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Québec-based filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the few emerging directors (like Jeff Nichols, Taika Waititi) whose work have continued to impress me. I love his emphasis on character development instead of wham-bam action. The use of special effects here is utterly fascinating, especially in the design of the alien spaceships and the otherwordly logograms language and how they’re transmitted. I’m now even more psyched about Blade Runner 2 just on account of having Villeneuve at the helm.

Arrival is one of those films that will stay with you long after the end credits, and that’s always a good sign. It certainly has a haunting quality that is always a positive thing in my book. Whether or not this will be a sci-fi classic remains to be seen, but without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.

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What are your thoughts on ARRIVAL?

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37 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

  1. Nice review Ruth, I pretty much agree with you about the film but I can’t say I’m in love with it. Not going to spoil anything but the whole seeing the future just didn’t jell with me and I thought the filmmakers kind of cheated by showing those scenes in the beginning, they could’ve done it a better way. It’s well made for sure and Adams was great. It reminded me of The Abyss and Contact.

    1. I guess I’m not in love w/ it either, not the way I am w/ Hunt For the Wilderpeople (which I think is pretty much perfect). But I think it’s very well-made, and ‘the seeing the future’ thing might be confusing, but it resonates w/ me emotionally. I actually like this one more than Contact, but perhaps on par w/ The Abyss.

      1. I wasn’t confuse by the whole seeing the future thing but I was expecting something different I guess. But I’m glad they didn’t make the whole revelation to be something in her head or something like that. While I was watching, I thought maybe they’d reveal it’s something in her mind since they kept showing scenes of her deceased daughter. I guess the script is pretty faithful to the short story, I never read it but apparently Chiang wrote it out of sequence.

  2. I absolutely loved this one too! The idea that language changes our perception of reality is absolute fascinating and yes Amy Adams is just brilliant. She so deserves to finally win that Oscar…

    1. Hi Esther! I don’t think the linguistic aspect has been explored in this great detail before, and it’s absolutely fascinating. I sure hope Amy finally gets her Oscar in what would be her sixth nomination!

  3. Tom

    Glad you liked it so much too Ruth. I thought this was a breathtaking and beautiful film; absolutely up there in my top 3 of the year. Top 3 or 5, I’m not sure yet. I finally got to see Moonlight! Yay!!!! (AND — I didn’t have to drive 3 hours round-trip to see it, either! 😉 )

    1. Breathtakingly-beautiful indeed Tom! It may very well be in my top 5 but I haven’t seen Manchester By The Sea or La La Land yet. For sure Moonlight WILL be in my top 3. Glad to hear you didn’t have to drive 3 hrs round trip to see it. I look forward to reading your review!

  4. I had a choice between watching ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ or seeing ‘Arrival’. I chose the former, which was a fine choice, indeed. Very charming. It felt like a Wes Anderson film. Now, maybe after school this week, I can run over to the Sedona movie theater and FINALLY sit down to see Arrival. Great review.

    1. Ooooh great choice! I have my review of ‘Wilderpeople’ done in my draft folder, it’ll definitely be one of my faves of all time! ‘Wilderpeople’ and ‘Arrival’ tied as my November Movie of the month, and I have a feeling you’d love ‘Arrival’ too Cindy, be sure to bring tissues when you see it!

    1. Hi Allie! Well, in my November recap, ‘Wilderpeople’ and ‘Arrival’ tied as my fave of the month and both will surely be on my top 10. As far as rewatchability though, ‘Wilderpeople’ wins that for me 😀

  5. I agree Arrival reminds us of our humanity and how we act towards newcomers. I was initially confused, but it grew on me. I disagree that it’s slow-paced, I was engaged thoughout. I’m going to check out the short story before too long.

    1. Hi Chris! I said this is slow-paced, it doesn’t mean it’s slow or boring. I was absorbed the entire time too, I don’t mind films that are more reflective in nature and this one certainly has a compelling story behind it.

      1. @Ruth: Gotcha, it wasn’t boring. When I think slow-paced its an arty Cannes film that moves at a snails pace, and I think Arrival has a wider audience. The most important thing is we both were absorbed by a compelling story 🙂

  6. Great review, Ruth! Denis Villeneuve is definitely one I’ll keep an eye on, because Arrival and last year’s Sicario were both tremendous. When the credits rolled, I just burst into tears. Out of no where. Not anticipated. Very rarely does a movie do that to me.

    1. Hi Courtney! I was REALLY impressed w/ Sicario, though Enemy creeped me out. I still haven’t seen Prisoners though. Yeah, I cried at the end of Arrival too, but I’m a bit of a crier generally. I also cried watching Pete’s Dragon 🙂 But then some films left me cold, i.e. Allied, which I’m posting about next.

  7. Great post Ruth. You saw this a lot like I did, for an alien movie it says so much about humanity, And so many other things if you want to pull back the layers. Its been three times for me now! 😀

    Interesting you prefer Johann’s work in Sicario. I thought the Arrival soundtrack was the best I have ever heard! I’ll have to go back and watch Sicario, or listen to the OST.

    I do think though that this movie would not have been anything like it was without that music. I hope Johann continues to work with Dennis.

    I can’t believe someone dozed off!! I’d have been so inclined to clap my hands or something top wake him up haha, don’t think I’m mean enough to do something like that though 😛

    BTW I just rewatched Wilderpeople. I was even better, the big screen was good but the home theatre competes well 😉 Every about it is so great, and what I love is that is an exaggerated story about a real problem. You can see how the film makes fun of the ‘welfare worker’ and I love how this real situation was turned into a fantasy/adventure film that is hilarious as well!

    1. Hey Jordan! Y’know I should listen to the score again for this. I actually listened to the Sicario’s soundtrack after I watched it too and loved it. Yeah Johann’s a great composer, he’s friends with the composer I interviewed a few months ago, Rob Simonsen.

      Yeah the guy next to me snored so loudly for at least a half hour. It’s so repulsive, I think if he were my date I’d have left him and never speak to him again.

      I can’t wait to rewatch ‘Wilderpeople’ again, I’m sure it’s just as fun as the first time watching it. Yep, Taika is such a great writer, the exaggeration of the story is what made it funny. Same with ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ it’s just absolutely hilarious!

      1. The post on my page about Arrival has a video near the top with the entire soundtrack as a playlist 😉

        And yep, exaggeration is the key to comedy 😉

        God I’m listening to that Arrival soundtrack now and wow….. look out for a repost about it, I tried to post about it but all the links went down the day after I shared them =/

        1. Hey Jordan! Yeah listening to this again gives me goosebumps! I just posted about the Golden Globes, Johansson’s nominated for Best Original Score for Arrival. Bummed that ‘Wilderpeople’ isn’t included in Best Comedy! 😦

          1. Wilderpeople not being there is insane. I can’t stand awards stuff really, it seems like a popularity contest more than anything else. I’m happy Johansson is nominated though, that score has to be one of the best original scores I have ever heard. It still gives me chills every time, and I must have played it over 50 times by now!!

    1. Hi Vinnie! Glad you saw this and loved it too. Yes, it’s nice to see an intelligent and emotionally-resonant sci-fi, a bonus w/ a strong female protagonist at the helm, too.

  8. Pingback: Bye bye 2016! End of year recap & musings on favorite films we saw this year

  9. Pingback: Top 10 BEST Movies of 2016

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