'Blu-ray or Bust'
ARRIVAL (2016, PG-13, 116 minutes, PARAMOUNT PICTURES/FILMNATION ENTERTAINMENT)
Science fiction can be a tough sell sometimes—mostly because when most people consider the genre, they immediately think STAR WARS, STAR TREK, INDEPENDENCE DAY—you know; lasers, action, invading or angry aliens.
In recent years, a few directors have tried to not redefine the genre, but honestly show you the true meaning of it. From Duncan Jones’s brilliant MOON, to Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, smart sci-fi isn’t something that is released all that often. (Mainly due to the lack of laser blasters and evil aliens.) Even Neill Blomkamp’s DISTRICT 9, while heavy with wonderful effects, told an effective and detailed scientific tale.
But the best science fiction wants you to consider the human element, and not some kick ass effects and booming soundtrack. ARRIVAL ups the ante a bit by focusing on a smart, well-developed story. It twists you, changes your expectations, and tries to make you re-evaluate what it means to really live, and not just exist.
Amy Adams stars as linguist Louise Banks, a woman recruited by the military (namely the brooding Forest Whitaker) to help interpret the language the inhabitants of a newly arrived alien ship. Joining her is Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, another scientist who winds up grappling with the whole “holy crap—we ain’t alone—and how do we keep them from turning us into dinner?!?” premise. What could have been a boring story about language becomes a struggle in understanding and communication, and not just with the visiting aliens; there are enough human threats all over the world, and director Denis Villeneuve (SICARIO, BLADE RUNNER 2049) knows how and when to amp up the tension.
He also understands the genre to a tee; a great science fiction movie uses the sum of all of its parts to create a convincing world and a truly human tale. From sound designer Sylvain Bellemare’s audio effects, to the camerawork by Bradford Young (SELMA), and the touching and affective score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (SICARIO, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), every single aspect of this film must gel perfectly to present the best telling of this story. And almost all of it works.
Except for the parts Hollywood expects to see. There are a few of your typical Hollywood sci-fi elements: the mobilization of armed forces, untrustworthy government officials (whom are always outfitted with the most predictable of dialogue), and a few unanswered scientific questions. These occasionally bog down the story, and the CIA guy may garner some eye rolls, but you sometimes expect these things to show up. C’mon, it’s Hollywood—they love regurgitating themes and plot points on a regular basis.
Overall, however, the film works. For me to outline any more of the plot would be doing you a disservice (as always, I’m spoiler free). And just in case you missed anything, the abundant special features are more than happy to spell everything out for you. No gag reels here; if anything, the featurettes lend more to the story itself, and how important it was to get all of those visual and audible elements to help tell a cohesive and believable tale of fictional science.
While ARRIVAL marks Villeneuve’s first foray into science fiction, his vision for Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER should prove an interesting transition to a more visual style of storytelling. If his efforts here are any indication, we may be in for an interesting ride later this year.
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely
-- T.S. Kummelman