Arrival

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I was born on the same day as my late uncle, and named after him. In 1977, he created some waves at a movie theatre in Duluth, Minnesota. After a showing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he went up to everybody in line for the next showing and told them how awful it was and that they’d be wasting their time if they saw it. Since I liked the movie, I argued my case with him (and a critic was born!).

If he were alive today, he’d have the same complaints about this much anticipated sci-fi film.

Director Denis Villeneuve, who disappointed me with Enemy, but had strong showings with Sicario and Prisoners (and is doing another much anticipated sci-fi film, the sequel to Blade Runner).

Half way through this movie, I thought how nice it was to have an adult science fiction film with aliens. It’s not some crappy action picture like Independance Day. My friends give me crap for not liking Independance Day and say I’m tough on science fiction. But heck, I’m one of the few critics that liked M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. I once got into an argument over District 9 with Roger Ebert (he hated the fact that the spaceship can hover, without gravity working on it).The problem with this film is…nothing that exciting really happens.

Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks (another refreshing thing the filmmakers do, is not make her look all sexy). She’s a linguistics expert that is paid a visit by a high-ranking military official (Forest Whitaker). Since UFOs are hovering over various parts of the world (in the U.S., one is over Montana), he wants to see if she can communicate with the aliens and find out their intent [I totally think she should’ve written out “Soylent Green is people!” just to be a smart ass].

When she gets to the spaceship, and gets scrubbed down like Karen Silkwood, she tries to make contact (yes, the movie will also make you think of the film Contact).

The pacing is perfect. It’s nice to have a slow build without too much expository dialogue. Yet when Whitaker starts barking for them to hurry up, it seems a bit cliched and forced.

Dr. Banks meets the attractive mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). In another refreshing move, they don’t just jump into bed or have some hot-and-steamy flirtation. They’re two brilliant people working together, with a little bit of chemistry. It’s also nice that the female lead is the one given more to do. In so many of these films, these talented actresses merely play the wife or second fiddle to the scientist that’s figuring out how to save the world.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Banks lost her daughter (it happens at the beginning of the film). It does make you think a bit of Gravity, although with what transpires later in the movie (which I can’t tell you without spoiling), that didn’t feel as manipulative as it did with Sandra Bullock.

This is the second movie I’ve seen this week with Michael Stuhlbarg being under used.

It’s always fun to see what the aliens are going to look like in these movies. Will it be short green creatures with bulbous heads? Nope. These “heptapods” look a bit like octopus creatures, and they squirt squid-like ink from their hands, in order to communicate.

The film gets a bit repetitive and slow. We’re given multiple scenes of Banks and her crew figuring out their language. Yet it gets interesting again when we realize that learning a new language might rewire the brain in how you think about things and how time works.

The movie is based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, and it would be refreshing to have a sci-fi movie that isn’t all about lasers and dog fights in the sky. Sometimes it’s nice to have a more cerebral sci-fi picture, like Interstellar, Another Earth, or Moon. This film just isn’t as good as any of those movies (despite it getting 100% on Rotten Tomatoes).

There’s terrific cinematography from Bradford Young, and a wonderful score by Johann Johannsson.

There’s an interesting bit of tension between other nations and how they want to handle the aliens. It reminded me of how much tension was mined from Crimson Tide, which took place on a submarine.

The moment late in the film that will blow people away, didn’t pack as much of a punch as it should’ve. It reminded me of 12 Monkeys, although it’s probably not fair to compare it to one of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks.

The movie just isn’t as profound as it wants to be. Surely a deeper film could’ve been made from this interesting subject matter.

It gets 2 stars out of 5.

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