Arrival (2016)

There’s so much I want to say about Arrival, but the movie works so much better the less you know about it. I certainly wouldn’t say the trailers ruined it, just that I was disappointed I saw them before letting the film unfold naturally. I’ve felt uneasy about the idea of a sequel to Blade Runner, but now that I’ve seen director Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to Sicario (my fourth favorite film of 2015), I can breathe easy. Here’s a director who’s probably going to be a household name like Spielberg and Scorsese. He’s also the guy who’s going to pick up the torch Neill Blomkamp dropped.

This is my favorite science fiction film since last year’s Ex Machina. It might be the best movie I’ve seen all year. Arrival is so far removed from Hollywood’s narrow view of science fiction, it’s no wonder it released in November rather than the summer (it will also help get it the Oscar nominations it deserves). I don’t remember the last time I saw a non-summer movie in the middle of the day which was as packed as this one, either, so hopefully it’s making boat loads of money.

We need more of this.

No, entire cities aren’t destroyed in the opening act. The President of the United States doesn’t look out the window of the White House and whisper, “My God.” Not only are no landmarks destroyed, they’re nowhere to be found—the alien ship which settles over America chooses to do so in Montana of all places. Even though the trailer gives away the reveal, it’s no less breathtaking seeing it within the context of the story.

The characters representing the government agencies provide strong conflict for the scientific characters without becoming the Jaws Mayor. Usually you’re supposed to hate the military character Forest Whitaker is playing, but you typically don’t draw actors as accomplished as he is if you’re so predictable. Michael Stuhlbarg’s CIA stooge also has clear and understandable motives, even though he, too, would have been made a villain in lesser movies.

I’ve complained several times on this blog about how scientists are often portrayed in movies. I’m glad I can say Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner nail it. They’re not pizza-eating losers in lab coats and they’re just the right amount of nerdy—the kind of people you would actually see interviewed in science documentaries. Adams’ character especially is complex and to say any more than that might give away some of the best stuff in the movie.

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