Arrival is a small movie, a quiet movie. Except it’s raked in $115 million and counting on a $47 million budget. It has blown away expectations even though it looks nothing like the sci-fi movies that we’ve seen, and its success is really exciting.
Peace over Violence
The movie stresses peace and clear communication over the militaristic courses pushed by hawkish governments and paranoid mystery officials. While we’ve seen this before in E.T. and other alien buddy movies, Arrival isn’t a children’s movie. This isn’t an alien romance where Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and an alien run off into a red dwarf sunset. The film emphasizes the lengths Louise goes to avoid war in a way that isn’t corny or childish. What’s even more surprising is that the director is Denis Villeneuve, the guy who basically gave me palpitations in Sicario.
This is a Movie for Nerds
Sci-fi has long been the realm of geeks, but there is a world (multiverse?) of difference between a geek and a nerd. This is not a movie that shies away from discussions of linguistic syntax. Yes, this movie has earned over $100 million.
The Aliens are Alien
The aliens approach alien-ness more than most movies, which is part of the difficulty of science fiction. Most aliens typically end up acting like humans shoehorned into rubber suits, but the screenplay is adapted from celebrated writer Ted Chiang’s short “Story of Your Life”, so the ideas are fully fleshed out. Could they still be more alien? Of course. But if they were fully alien, then it would likely require an alien writer to work up those sketches, which is quite frankly, something I would like to read.
The Actors are Allowed to Act
Amy Adam’s last science fiction role was in comic book epics Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Let’s let that sink in. One of the greatest actresses of our time is stuck shilling in these terrible D.C. movies. At least Rachel McAdams and Natalie Portman had their thankless tasks in Marvel movies.
Here, Adams is given center stage, and she is a moving portrait of modulated empathy backed in scholarly pragmatism and a deep well of wistful idealism. Which is a complicated way of saying she’s good. Jeremy Renner is similarly free, no longer forced into the even thanklesser task of being the Avengers’ most useless hero.
Love Transcended Time and Space, in a Way that Didn’t Make Me Throw up
Anne Hathaway is a fantastic actress, and I admired parts of Interstellar. But come on. Arrival does it better.