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There is a lot that makes Arrival appealing in concept; it is an alien visitor movie, interested in showing, as realistically as possible, what would happen if an alien spaceship did in fact turn up on earth. The hero of the movie isn't a burly soldier trying to find a boss alien's weak spot, but a linguistics expert who has been tasked with finding out what the hell the aliens are saying before the military lose patience. Unfortunately, the audience are likely to lose their patience first.
This is a movie that works better in concept, or perhaps better in its original literary format, than as a movie. There is something about the nature of movie business that makes it unequivocally hostile towards the slow, motionless and thoughtful story that Arrival wants to tell, and the result is we get a movie that has to find transparently artificial ways to ratchet up the drama. The linguistics expert in question works in isolation because apparently she is the only linguist the US government is able to supply, leaving her to solve the most complicated problem mankind has ever faced. Meanwhile, she is surrounded by paranoid, moron soldiers and foreign armies who are desperate to start killing everything. This highly contrived ticking time bomb (in a movie that literally includes a ticking time bomb) undermines what was a noble attempt at a bit of sober story telling. We as an audience can't be trusted to sit through someone making a lexicographical breakthrough, so a cold war-esque intrigue is added to the detriment of everything.
It's a shame, because I am genuinely interested when characters start talking about how language functions, and there is quite a neat, Vonnegutian twist worked the ending. Unfortunately, the movie manages to find ways to spoil even those good ideas, with it patronising the audience with on-the-nose expository dialogue, for fear of being too clever for us. There is also a complete lack of chemistry between the lead characters, which is unfortunate in a story where their chemistry is actually of fundamental importance to the plot. Arrival is a film that I want to like, but I can sooner recommend the book (which I haven't even read) than encourage people to sit through a slightly dull movie that doesn't quite believe in itself.
I really can't say much about this film, because the revelation and solution to the main problem of the film absolutely ties in with the character development and everything else that happens in the film, and change your perspective on it.
So... yeah. I have to say, the themes are great and it works very well. There may be some Fridge Horror if you think about it, but that doesn't make it a plothole or anything - just more to really think about and consider. It's a very thoughtful film.
One thing that I, and anyone who's a big fan of Hard science fiction, will like is the first 90% of the film. It takes an alien "invasion" very realistically, with a realistic government, military, and even individual response. Unfortunately, the big reveal also requires the "Hardness" rating to suddenly drop 3 pegs. If you've actually got a science degree and this is important to you, you'll notice it right away and you may find it annoying.
For people who want something that looks like realistic science-like film without bothering to actually know science... it's great. It's about the themes, not the science, anyway.
Lastly... the pacing. Despite being a fan, I found it too slow at times. Almost any scene where they're showing you something for the first time... it lasted maybe twice as long as it should have. Every time, when they introduced the location, the ship, the passageway... any form of "introduction" in the film just kept dragging on and on. I know it takes time to soak things in, but I was sitting there, going from being in awe, to understanding, to "just get on with it", to "holy crap how long are they going to spend on this one shot?" Evvvvveeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyy. Siiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggglllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeee. Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Still, a great film overall.
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