Arrival Review

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Arrival is one of many films to answer the question of what would happen if aliens came to Earth. In Arrival, the aliens land in several spots on the globe. Nobody can make heads or tails out of the way the aliens talk so linguist Louise Banks is called in to communicate with the extraterrestrials. Because the aliens are located all over the world, every country has different has different reactions. Louise – working with the US military – needs to figure out to communicate with the aliens before war breaks out.

 

A big part of the movie is about language – so Arrival dives into some provocative ideas about how language works and how it affects the way people think. For example, because the aliens communicate in a certain way, their entire way of thinking is different from humans (Or perhaps it’s the other way around – the kind of thinking this movie provides). The aliens use written communication that has no lateral comparison to any earthly language. Watching how they have to decipher this literal alien language to break down the most common phrases – including the all-important “Why are [they] here?” – is fascinating.

 

Arrival relies heavily on suspense. During the first act of the movie, there is much mystery surrounding the appearance of the aliens. When we see them, the designs are pretty good, but there is a sense of wonder and discovery at their appearance. In the early scenes, leading up to the aliens, there are scenes where with minimal music that take their time, allowing us to soak in every small sound and detail in the scene. It puts the viewer in the claustrophobic atmosphere the characters would be feeling. Much of the movie doles out the exposition on what is going on in the world, particularly with Chinese General Shang – who is threatening violence with the visitors – through news stories. This is generally effective as news stories are how most people would learn of such major events so the film succeeds in putting the viewer in the characters’ shoes, especially as the film builds tension with destruction looking inevitable.

 

Without giving too much away, the aliens’ goal is not the newest idea in the world. However, the way the film delivers this twist is clever. There is another twist in the film that is cleverly done in the way it toys with viewers’ expectations. If there is one nitpick with the film, there are parts where it feels like a scene cycle – they talk to the aliens, then analyze what they say – repeat. One of the strengths of the film is the way it builds on everything with each new meeting. So the film spices things up enough to not be completely repetitive, but it was a minor issue.

 

Overall, Arrival is a truly great film. The film is a blend of complex ideas with genuinely suspenseful moments. With so many great movies in theaters or on the way, Arrival still stands as a must-see.

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