"Arrival" is so much more than a sci-fi movie
Posted November 11, 2016
MOVIE LAND — “Arrival” is so much more than a science-fiction movie.
Every once in awhile, I will see a movie that requires at least a couple days for me to really process what I just experienced. These are the types of movies that challenge my ideas of what a movie is versus what movie can be.
"Arrival" is the first movie in a long time to make me reconsider what I think a movie could be and how a story should be told.
The setup of "Arrival" is simple: 12 giant alien spacecrafts set themselves at random locations around the globe and are immovable. There is no indication as to how they got there, where they came from or what their purpose is. Of the 12 ships, a single ship hovers only a few meters above a prairie in Montana.
For two U.S. civilians, their jobs become an attempt to establish contact with the aliens to determine the purpose their arrival. The two chosen for this mission are a brilliant linguist played by Amy Adams and a theoretical physicist played by Jeremy Renner. The plot seems familiar enough and could be the starting point of any number of alien arrival movies we have seen over the years. As generic as the premise seemed, it was clear from the first minute this would be a different movie than anyone was expecting. Here is why:
The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts
In general, there are so many elements that have to be done right for a movie to turn out well. If this is true of any movie, what then does it take to make a great movie? I believe it takes not only each component of the film being perfectly executed, but each part has to to tell the bigger story in its own specific and unexpected way.
"Arrival" does this by creating a completely unique experience for the viewer by combining individual elements such as sound effects, musical score, cinematography and storyline in ways that cannot be separated one from another. The final result is an experience that isn’t easily described, even after you have left the theater.
A non-linear plot set within a linear story
The way the plot unfolds as compared to how the bigger story is presented is probably the one thing that gave me the most to think about after the movie had ended. As the story progresses, we are given only as much information as the Amy Adam’s character receives so it becomes up to us to figure out what is going on at the same time she does.
The beauty of this storytelling is contained in its ability to lead us from point A to point B in a straight line, but unveil a deeper plot in a nonlinear way that keeps us guessing as to what the whole point of the movie is.
Unconventional sound effects and music
I would not be surprised if one or both of these sound elements in "Arrival" were nominated for an Academy Award this awards season. Both the sound effects and music could not be ignored or separated from the unique feeling of this film. The music is unconventional and the sound is often unexpected. For example, as you see the body of the alien ship and watch its texture while the camera flies past, you hear the sound of what it must feel like to touch its surface.
Many times throughout the film, I had to ask myself if I was listening to a sound effect or the musical score because often they would flow in and out of each other, giving a massive feel to the film while also providing depth to the story.
If you are looking for lasers, explosions and high speed battles you won’t find them in "Arrival." The conventional wisdom in science-fiction movies is that each film has to be bigger, louder and faster than the last.
"Arrival" (much like the movie "Contact") takes a different approach. While what is portrayed on screen is larger than life, it is not the aliens or their spacecrafts that create this effect— it is the emptiness of a room or the proportion of a human to the blackness of the ship that gives this movie its visual presence.
Often movies about aliens and movies about ghosts are better when it’s left to your imagination as to how they look. (This was especially true in the movie "Signs.") I would have said this was true for "Arrival" as well if what the aliens looked like had actually mattered.
The truth is this movie is not about aliens, it’s about humans. The aliens portrayed in this movie are very unique and designed in a way that their function dictates their form. The most impressive thing to me about the aliens is not their appearance, but how they related to humans.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this movie even though and especially because I was challenged by it. I walked out of the film with a lot to think about and feel.
With that being said, this movie is not for everyone. If you are expecting a science-fiction film that is full of flash and excitement, this movie is not for you. Even if you know you're not going to get a lot of explosions or fast-paced action, be prepared to experience a movie that will take its time to tell its story while taking you someplace you didn’t expect.