While the sheeple of Earth may never truly know if life outside our own has made first contact, I’ve always pondered over how the scenario would play out on a global scale. And in the crazy times we live in, that thought has crossed my mind more frequently than ever. Thankfully, Arrival has made first contact.
Of course there’s Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mars Attacks, and War of the Worlds among others, but they narrowly focus on aggressive aliens threatening our planet and how the two-time, undefeated, back-to-back World War champions from the United States of America must find a way to put an end to their existence. Then on the other side of the coin we have Contact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Abyss approaching the situation with no aggression, but very intimately and impacting only a certain group of people and not the world. Arrival bridges the gap of the entire spectrum of first encounter cinema and absolutely sticks the landing.
Its well-crafted narrative blends science fiction into a political thriller with a sense of urgency unmatched by the big popcorn blockbusters of its ilk. The tension it so carefully builds reaches incredible heights all the way up to the final moments of the film thanks to the varying degrees of cultural perspective in handling the global encounter. The many layers of Arrival evoke a satisfying thirst of Inception-esque conversation as it delicately balances its enriched themes without feeling overstuffed, preachy, or derivative, which help lead up to its powerful ending.
Director Denis Villenueve is no stranger to this caliber of storytelling as seen from his earlier work in Sicario and Prisoners. Not only has he assembled a stellar cast led by Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker – of which Adams was completely snubbed from this year’s Academy Awards – but the technical prowess behind Arrival is sensational. Bradford Young (Selma; A Most Violent Year), the second black cinematographer to ever be nominated for an Oscar, paints a chilly canvas of epic proportions complemented by a uniquely haunting score by Oscar-nominated Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario; The Theory of Everything). Additionally, the eerie sound design and original look of the aliens along with the production design of the interior of the spaceship is top-notch.
One of the most important factors that makes Arrival shine, aside from Eric Heisserer’s (Lights Out; Final Destination 5) screenplay adapted from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” short sci-fi story, is its editing. Standing atop an intricate glass house of panels consisting of suspenseful plots, engaging themes, and riveting emotions, editor Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave; Shame; Sicario) has elegantly constructed each element to nurture an astounding and moving story.
But if there is one thing that left the biggest impression on me, it is the way the movie approaches communication. In an age where technology has brought us closer together than ever before, it has also torn us apart. Technology has evolved mankind to speak and conduct social interactions with one another differently now than how we used to five or even ten years ago. Imagine bringing an alien species into the mix, one we cannot understand, and having to make sense of it all. It’s difficult enough for some to communicate with another human who comes from a different background and speaks a foreign language – a topic of which Paramount hits outs of the park with a video entitled “Common Ground” that premiered during its theatrical run. Arrival tackles this unfamiliar territory like a house of cards ready to crumble under the vast pressure from every country trying to understand what the aliens want. As Louise (Adams) and Ian (Renner) inch closer to the unveil the truth, others become tired of waiting and have their phones dialed-in for all out war. To provide a less straightforward narrative and achieve maximum feels, congruently the film sprinkles in glimpses of Louise’s family life that adds to its one-two punch climax. With such brilliant direction from Villenueve, Arrival is able to capture the bigger picture in how reshaping the way we think can lead to forward progress among each other and within ourselves.
Needless to say, Arrival is a master class film with nuance and nail-biting suspense that is too important to miss. Firing on all cylinders, Villenueve has created a work of art that entertains, arouses wonder, and sparks discussion that can resonate across the world. Effective communication is key, and Arrival delivers its message with grace.
- Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival – Featurette
- Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design – Featurette
- Eternal Recurrence: The Score – Featurette
- Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process – Featurette
- Principles of Time, Memory & Language – Featurette
The bonus material is very solid for those who love filmmaking, especially for a science fiction think piece like Arrival. All of the featurettes are inherently fascinating thanks to the level of craft that went into its development. Everyone involved fawns over the story, with each vignette explained in meticulous detail. Although you won’t find high-energy special features on this disc as you would an action blockbuster, the Arrival Blu-ray special features leaves you with no doubt that Villeneuve approached this film with the utmost respect and care.
What did you think about Arrival? Tell us in the comment section below. [Watch the trailer]