I wasn’t that crazy about seeing Arrival. There hadn’t been much hype, I wasn’t already aware of it and the trailer made it look like it was borrowing a plotline from the first season of Enterprise where the Federation hadn’t developed the Universal Translator yet, so they weren’t sure if the aliens were going to kill the Enterprise or not. And to be fair that’s a large part of it – how much of Earth’s stress in this movie would have been reduced by the invention of a Universal Translator? I’m not going to tell you; after seeing Arrival through, I can say that it’s not the point of the film.
I was shocked by just how good Arrival was. Even though the first half of the movie when the plot progressed so slowly it was painful (because the suspense was killing me), I wasn’t sure it would be any good. After all, LOTS of movies start out well, they build suspense wonderfully, they establish their story question and get us good and hooked and then completely bork it in the third act. Arrival isn’t one of those films. The ending doesn’t kill this film, it makes this film. It’s not just a suspenseful sci-fi (though that would have been enough) by the time Arrival is done it’s something else.
I loved the Aliens, known as Heptapods for their seven feet, so much (sorry I couldn’t find a picture). They way they moved, their grace and body language, the way they wrote, it was all wonderful. Even the weird not-quite-symmetrical shape of their spaceships intrigued me. It was all so carefully designed, so neutral yet impressive, and absolutely terrifying and inscrutable. This was helped by the way the government(s) reacted to these ships in exactly the way you would expect. We know why the humans are acting the way they do but nothing about the aliens is decipherable.
If it sounds like I’m talking around certain aspects of the film, it’s because I am. Of all the reviews I’ve ever done, THIS one is the one I want most to avoid spoiling. Which makes it extra difficult to review because it’s the events of the film that shaped my opinion of it. I can discuss the design (excellent) the pacing (precise) and the acting (I didn’t really notice, must have been great) all day, but all I can think is how happy/sad/excited/satisfied/nervous/amazed/whatever I was when I watched this. Which in itself is impressive – a lesser film couldn’t have made me care enough to worry let alone be astonished by the answer.
Of course, not everything was perfect. Naturally I have some minor quibbles mostly centered around logistics. It seems weird that they’d only send one logistics expert instead of a team, for example. Jeremy Renner’s character was a scientist, not a linguist, he didn’t seem to have much to do during the film except stand around and be charming (not that I mind). Here again I run into the problem I had describing what I liked about the film, I can’t really criticize without giving stuff away. Let’s just say that not everything made sense if you really picked at it. Instead I will criticize the lack of shirtless male models, which is absolutely true, and I’ll leave it at that.
So is Arrival worth watching? Yes. Good heavens yes. It’s even worth watching on the big screen so you won’t be tempted to fast forward and peek ahead (and then have to go back so things make sense again). It’s worth watching a second time, I’m sure, when all the small details will fall into place. This was a carefully made film, intelligent in every detail. I can see why people are raving about it, it may well actually BE movie of the year.