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Arrival (2016)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: November 11th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Denis Villeneuve Actors: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Leisa Reid, Max Walker, Genevieve Sirois, Christian Jadah

W

hen twelve massive, oviform spaceships land around the globe, each of the Earth’s world powers immediately sends their top scientists and armed forces to investigate – and maintain control of the situation. The U.S. entrusts linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to lead communications with the alien beings, while Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) commands the military presence. As Banks and Donnelly work tirelessly to decipher images and form rudimentary conversations with the extraterrestrial entities, other nations consumed by panic and paranoia prepare for an offensive attack. With time running out, the two scientists must risk everything to uncover the true purpose of the otherworldly visitors.

“We are so bound by time. By its order.” That, of course, is the problem with “Arrival.” There’s only one way to show a movie: in an order. It doesn’t have to be specifically from the beginning to the end or from the present to the future; but it does have to be in some sort of distinguishable order. If, for example, a conversation between characters didn’t play out in order from one person to the other and then back to the first, audiences would never understand their communication. And, to take that further, if one character’s sentence was spoken out of order, even that single line would be unintelligible. Such is the problem with “Arrival’s” sense of time; it’s not time travel or multiple timelines or even nonlinear time – it’s unordered time (or time all at once). It doesn’t help that the aliens are superiorly technologically advanced, yet can’t dumb themselves down for the sake of human correspondence. It’s like people trying to help whales decipher the English language.

Strangely, its ungraspable concepts aren’t enough to completely destroy the entertainment value. There’s still magnificent string melodies, heady communication theories, excellent acting, and plenty of humor. The Russians and the Chinese are the first to mobilize troops and weaponry, while looting and anxiety grip the rest of the world. It’s like the initial premise of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” except that a translator has to be called in to figure out what Klaatu is babbling about. And societies immediately begin behaving as they probably would in a real-life alien invasion scenario – with chaos and confusion. In many ways, “Arrival” reinforces the idea that humans will never agree on the best way to approach extraterrestrial visitors – they’ll always find a way to attack, destroy, demonize, or weaponize that which they do not understand.

The out-of-this-world setup does contain a sensible, calm, uncommonly realistic approach, however, with the recruitment of scientists and linguists and the military involvement, all tackling the mystifying appearance with excitement, then consternation, then selfishness, then control, then fear. If there was such a precedent, “Arrival” might be considered an alien encounter procedural. Surely, it’s the polished, modernized version of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but without the levity and chirpy musical components; these visitors are serious and patient. And the sense of wonder surrounding Louise’s initial survey and investigation is so utterly mesmerizing that the images can’t unfold fast enough. The anticipation is practically unbearable. The shame is that this extraordinary sci-fi stimulation eventually succumbs to the weightiness and complexities of the time-perception ideas – and the grossly unreliable narrator.

– The Massie Twins

 



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