Horrorible Review: “The Arrival”

Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!

Arrival movie poster

The Arrival

Put down that book! Turn off your phone!  If you need snacks get them before the movie starts because if you leave for even a minute you will be completely lost. Okay, fine, you’ll probably be confused anyway but if you pay close attention for the whole two hours you’ll at least have a fighting chance. Considering the languid nature of this film, I’m impressed they pulled that off. A lot happens, and a lot more is going on that seems maybe a little odd but not as important as you’ll realize later. You’ll say “Ah ha!” and “Oh, wow!” before the credits roll, I guarantee it.

If the idea of aliens suddenly arriving in huge ships that they can hang in the sky without a coat hanger or air blower makes you a little uneasy, you will find The Arrival quietly thrilling, with the added bonus of an earnest attempt at portraying the massive problems we’ll have simply learning how to say, “Hello, please don’t blow us up.” The writers have come up with nifty ways to explore the conundrum of, if two sentient species communicate in wildly different ways, how are they going to talk to each other? “Just draw some pictures,” you say?  Well, sure, but what if they don’t have a means of interacting visually? It’s an old science fictional idea, updated to include current technology, and seasoned with linguistic technospeak. I haven’t seen as good an example of this since the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Darmok”. We don’t often see people being smart in a Hollywood movie, so enjoy it while you can.

The poster tries to make the film look exciting with all its alien ship hanging in the sky and helicopters swooping past and three main stars looking all Dramatic Poster Face, but this is not a frenetic Da Vinci Code meets the aliens kinda movie. It moves slowly but steadily, unpacking plot points like a matryoshka doll.  Forest Whitaker is a cipher as the possibly evil military mastermind.  Jeremy Renner, lightyears away from his Hawkeye role, plays a physicist who befriends Amy Adams as she’s pulled in by the military to learn alien speak. They’re all solid actors and quite earnest, but not quite believable, which I thought was unfortunate. In Renner’s case it’s because the writers didn’t really give him any physics to do. This movie was all about communicating with “the other”, both alien and terrestrial so Adams’ linguist gets the biggest workout. She’s very good at looking sad, and focused, and says her lines with great conviction. I’m not sure why her performance seemed just a little off, but it did.

The score is as circular and inscrutable as the alien’s writing, and subtle enough that it took me a while to notice it. The movie is attractive, though often dark, giving the computer monitors a chance to shine and making everything look just a little more mysterious. I liked how the human research tent city was maze-like and cramped while the alien ship was simple and massive, which spoke volumes about our respective natures.

There is a lot to like about The Arrival, but don’t make the mistake of believing the trailer. The movie is clever and complex, and more about the exploration than the explosions.  You should check this out some time if you haven’t already, just be sure to pay attention.


Arrival Trailer (2016) – Paramount Pictures

CFR: In Addition: I too really liked this movie and you can read my Arrival review here.

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