Arrival :A Satisfying Sc-Fi Flick

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

There has not been exceptional movies shown at Matti Cinema, as the only place to watch Hollywood movies. But rare movies bring the best of movie lovers, audiences and Arrival is one such movie. - 10out of 10 stars

Of Hollywoods many clichs, alien invasion movies are chief. It is a trend exasperated in the 1950s, when for the first time mankind was contemplating space travel as a possible near-future experience.

What would it be like to meet extra-terrestrial beings?

Some very colorful movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The War of the Worlds provided the answers. Unsurprisingly, these movies envisioned aliens as inherently hostile. It was a time of uncertainty, race relations all around the world were still, as are now, very tender. Filmmakers found it hard to believe that a society so full of war and violence could possibly find a common ground with one that comes from a completely different planet.

If there is racism, why not species-ism?

The 70s saw a shift in how aliens were perceived. The next decade came after the open and fruitful 60’s, replete with civil rights movements, drugs and rock and roll. The modern attitude was that different and wasnt so bad. In fact, it could be a fad. Films like Steven Spielbergs two key sci-fi offerings saw the light of day: E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Currently, there are two types of alien invasion movies.

A high budgeted one, which would involve a lot of explosions and special effects, would more likely be one in which the aliens are hostile (Pacific Rim, Independence Day: Resurgence). An alien invasion movie that is modestly budgeted would more likely be contemplative, liable to treat extraterrestrials as beings to mull and ponder over than one to destroy.

Arrival is of the latter bunch. Adapted from the short story, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, it tells an alien invasion story in a manner I find most true to life.

The film opens with a very sad scene that depicts the death of the protagonists daughter. Louise (Amy Adams) is an acclaimed linguist who, after losing her daughter, retreats into depression and loneliness. But everything changes when, in her own words, they arrive.

Who does? Aliens!

Unlike in most other movies, they just do not land in America, but all around the world, in eleven other places. Louise is soon contacted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who heads the army base at one of the landing sites. With another specialist (Jeremy Renner), she is needed to help unearth the reason behind the aliens strange, noncommittal arrival. Who or what are they, or more importantly, what do they want?

Chiang, author of the short story from which this fascinating film is adapted, uses the alien plot line as a means to provoke discussions about the awesome powers of communication. The profession of Louise is the key to the entire story. There is an overarching theme that argues the pen is mightier than the sword, that all of mankinds woes could be answered by simply bridging the gap between individuals, cultures and religions.

Nonetheless, the very intense experience I got out of Arrival might not be replicated for audiences who go into such movies expecting great space operas or epic action sequences.

At the heart of every great science fiction movie is impeccable plot architecture, executed with great care and precision. And who better to do this, at least currently, than Denis Villeneuve.

The Canadian film director of such fantastic thrillers like Prisoners and Sicario is on a hot streak. Successively, he has made Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival. His next upcoming movie is a sequel to the legendary cult film Blade Runner – Blade Runner 2049.

A lot of Villeneuves movies are concerned with the abject search for fact. His characters, most of them female, start their journeys looking for some great truth that would obviously serve to greatly alter the direction of their lives.

What they find in the end however – for instance in movies like Incendies, Sicario and Arrival – is that knowledge is very painful and not for the faint-hearted. This predominant theme that runs in his movies, and most of all in his seminal Incendies, is finally given a greater evaluation in Arrival.

In this film, Louise makes a crucial decision at the end of the movie. This decision rests on the assumption that, although truth might hurt us, it should nevertheless still be fathomed. It puts a lot of Villeneuves movies into perspective. For instance, it was right for the characters in Incendies to have looked for their father and half-brother, even though they finally make the very painful discovery that both these men are (spoiler-alert) the same.

Villeneuve does not just have a great eye for scripts but also choice of actors. This film couldn’t have possibly worked if it was not for the modest, down to earth, approach of the beautiful Amy Adams. She understands Louise, or maybe, it is vice versa. Either way, her casting is pitch perfect, serving as a springboard for both the other major players, Whitaker and Renner.

There hasn’t been a lot of good movies at Matti Cinema this year. It is the only place one can go to watch a Hollywood movie on the big screen in the country, so it is kind of sad that the multiplex is overtly saturated by superhero and Kevin Hart movies. Arrival isnt necessarily a break from this trend, but thanks to some very dedicated people to the craft of filmmaking, it is the sophisticated audience that wins this time.

Published on Dec 13,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 867]



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