Sunday, December 11, 2016


          Would make an interesting double-feature with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
          To the good, Arrival is a movie featuring contact with aliens. To the bad, it's largely depressing and mostly boring.
          To say what makes it depressing would give too much away. Remaining deliberately vague, suffice to say there is no enjoyment to be taken from the depressing aspect which girds the entire film. It's just a downer.
          Before the boring, let's hit the upshot:
          When alien ships reach Earth, the US military recruits a professor of linguistics (Adams) to communicate with them.
          Problem number one is the premise itself. A species advanced enough for interstellar or interdimensional travel would not require a linguistics professor. End of story. So when she holds up a sign with her name, points to the word, then points to herself and says, "Louise" for awhile, it's a lot to endure.
          Then there's the way the aliens look. Sometimes difference just for the sake of difference doesn't really work. Maybe, possibly, beings from other worlds look like pink giraffes with umbrellas on their backs. Let's hope not, because it's better when aliens look cool. And part of what makes an alien look cool is having a form compatible with operating advanced technology. The visuals have to pass the smell test, so to speak. And it doesn't happen here.
          In a sense the film seems most indebted to Christopher Nolan's non-linear Memento. Like that one and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arrival probably improves with multiple viewings. Also to the good, Amy Adams, always watchable, carries every scene. Neither always depressing nor always boring, much of the film, which turns spaceships literally on end, innovates and entertains.
          The worst part of Arrival, however, is how it seems to subtly prepare audiences for a false flag incident. When the ships arrive, so does martial law and the fascist state. Which no one questions. Suddenly, there's a mandatory curfew. Overnight militarization replaces culture. Effectively enslaved masses, terrorized, stare at televisions for further programming. Even more than regular. This is a dumb thing to do with a movie and it's a major turnoff.
          Close Encounters of the Third Kind presents an infinitely better vision largely because the communication between the advanced species and humanity completely circumvents all the petty little power structures. Forty years ago, questioning authority was normal. The Richard Dreyfuss character, with his prophet-like experiences, will not be denied. Louise, too, shows similar strength. Which is good. But the overall presentation speaks to audiences less prepared for actively questioning our role in the universe and more conditioned to passively receive the arrival of authoritarian control.

Starring Amy Adams,
Jeremy Renner,
Forest Whitaker,
Michael Stuhlberg,
Mark O'Brien,
Tzi Ma
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Eric Heisserer
Based on a story by Ted Chiang
Runtime 116 minutes
Rated PG-13

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