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Saturday, February 18, 2017
There are at least two kinds of sci-fi movies that I love. One is the slam-bang space opera with explosions in space, spaceships having dogfights in space, and/or space monsters destroying the world before returning to outer space. These are awesome and I wouldn't dream of looking down my nose at them because they're just so much dumb fun.
The other kind of sci-fi movie I love is the kind that's good because it's just so much smart fun. Movies such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, DEEP IMPACT, and CONTACT. I love them because they present scintillating scenarios and ideas which are often both illuminating and, in the best cases, mind-expanding. And they explore these things in relation to how they would affect humanity in the really-real world.
With ARRIVAL (2016), you get all that in addition to the kind of intensely emotional situations that can only exist in science fiction.
Upon the arrival of 12 massive egg-shaped spaceships which park themselves over various locations around the world, linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams, THE MASTER, SUNSHINE CLEANING, STILL STANDING) is pressed into service by the government to help establish contact with the aliens, an experience that will dovetail in ways she can't yet imagine with the tragic death of her daughter Hannah, whom we see in fleeting flashbacks.
Director Denis Villeneuve turns this into a gorgeously-photographed dreamlike journey for her and us in which we're never really able to recover from the disorienting unreality of the situation.
The hard-edged military protocol of the base camp adjoining one of the ships (embodied by Forest Whitaker's no-nonsense "Colonel Weber") and all the scientific mumbo-jumbo that's thrown around only serve to make Louise's entry into the mysterious craft and her attempts to communicate with its ultra-strange occupants seems even more breathlessly surreal.
Memories of her daughter keep haunting her throughout the experience, visions which are seemingly unstuck in time as Louise is drawn into the aliens' non-linear concept of past, present, and future. Scenes of her inside the cavernous spaceship, interacting with her otherworldly counterparts on an increasingly emotional level, are among the most compelling and thought-provoking of any I've seen in any sci-fi film.
In addition to this ARRIVAL deals in a fascinating way with the catastrophic effects such an event would have on humanity on a global scale. Much of this is conveyed by news reports of violent societal upheaval (without, for once, a bunch of CNN personalities playing themselves badly) and the growing paranoia of various government leaders who are inching toward war against the outworlders.
The juxtaposition between the genuine desire for peaceful understanding and empathy shown by Louise and her science-expert cohort Ian (Jeremy Renner, "Hawkeye" in the AVENGERS movies) and the increasingly hostile attitude displayed by Earth's military leaders is jarring.
It also leads to some of the film's most suspenseful and disturbing moments, especially when a mutinous faction within Colonel Weber's own ranks devises a plot to sabotage the ship.
But despite the dramatic urgency of this global countdown to interplanetary war, much of the story is devoted to diligent cerebral research and detective work along with Louise's own intense emotional journey through the whole experience and how profoundly it changes her life.
Amy Adams is a joy to watch as she fully inhabits the role of the pensive yet passionate Louise, with Jeremy Renner providing capable support as Ian. Forest Whitaker (THE MARSH, PAWN, CATCH .44, HURRICANE SEASON), of course, is pretty much a national treasure by now and can do no wrong.
SPFX are as fine as modern CGI can devise, but it's the full-scale ship interior that's most impressive. I won't go into the appearance of the aliens or the nature of their written language, which both Louise and Ian struggle mightily to make sense of, but both are sufficiently bizarre. All other aspects of the production are first-rate.
The Blu-ray from Paramount Home Media Distribution is widescreen with Dolby 5.1 stereo in English, French, and Spanish and subtitles in English. Also included is a download code for a digital HD copy. Bonus features consist of lengthy featurettes (over 80 minutes total) including "Xenolinguistics: Understanding 'Arrival'", "Acoustic Signature: The Sound Design", "Eternal Recurrence: The Score", "Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process", and "Principles of Time, Memory, and Language."
ARRIVAL is slow and thoughtful, but continuously fascinating--it never lags or loses interest for those serious sci-fi lovers who are truly along for the ride. And the ending delivers the kind of thought-provoking yet deeply emotional payoff that should leave them contemplating certain mysteries of life, love, and the universe for some time to come.
Buy it at Amazon.com:
Blu-rayUHD/BD/Digital HD Combo
Blu-rayBD/Digital HD Combo