In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Arrival takes itself very seriously. Arrival tells an insane story. What Arrival forgets to do is have fun with it.”
“Memory is a strange thing.”
The academy awards have often been accused of being elitist. Only awarding highbrow, often little seen movies, so voters can feel smart. One of the reasons the Best Picture category was opened up a few years ago to include up to 10 movies was so more crowd friendly, box office hits could be included, instead of exclusively recognising prestige, “important” movies. Last year was an example of that system working, with fun, genre escapism being nominated in the form of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian. This year, the genre, blockbuster slot is filled by a far less worthy recipient, Arrival.
When giant, alien spacecraft appear in a dozen different places all over the globe, world leaders freak out as they try to determine if these visitors come in peace, or if they have something more threatening in mind. Recruiting college professor and linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), the American government makes contact with the seven limbed aliens they dub heptapods. Communication and translation proves to be a slow process, but piece by piece, Louise, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), builds a rapport with extra-terrestrial visitors.
But slow and steady isn’t the kind of pace that world leaders are ready to accept when it comes to global security. Soon, other governments and militaries around the world make their own translations of what their local aliens are saying, and their interpretations aren’t as optimistic as those of Louise and Ian. Also, there’s a side story about a dead daughter that I assumed was supposed to make Louise a more sympathetic character. It turns out to be much more integral to the story than that, but it still never worked or added anything for me.
The best B grade, genre movies work because they never settle for being B grade. They never wink at the camera or take themselves less seriously just because they’re telling a fantastical, or insane story. Last year, even though I knew neither had any chance of winning, I think both Mad Max and The Martian more than deserved their place in the Best Picture nominations list because they were such perfect examples of B grade genre pictures that told insane stories, never seemed embarrassed by it, and had plenty of fun at the same time.
Arrival takes itself very seriously. Arrival tells an insane story. What Arrival forgets to do is have fun with it. It’s so stone faced, so dour and so determined to force its message down the viewer’s throat, that I felt too beaten down by it to ever have fun with it.
But that’s not to say that I thought Arrival was a total loss. There is a big upside that makes up for everything I didn’t like, and that upside is director Denis Villeneuve. His last movie was Sicario, which is totally different to Arrival in every way. He also made Prisoners, which is nothing like Arrival or Sicario.
I love film makers like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, but I sometimes wish they would make a move they didn’t write, or didn’t include their regular stable of actor, or venture out of their comfort zones . In a world where so many major studio directors play exclusively in their own little sandboxes, I love that there’s a journeyman like Villeneuve, making such varied stuff, making sure I never know what to expect from him next.