Review: Arrival + New Article

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jodie Foster movie Contact. It’s actually kind of a boring film in some ways, but I always find it so thought-provoking. I enjoy where my mind goes after the movie more than the movie itself.

An alien ship in the movie ArrivalWhen I saw the first trailer for Arrival, I got excited. I hoped it might be a similarly thought-provoking piece of sci-fi. It didn’t seem like a theatre movie, but I resolved to see it as soon as it came on Netflix.

Now that it has, though, I find it’s not nearly as compelling as I’d hoped.

Arrival begins with a dozen massive alien vessels landing at various random points around the globe. When the aliens make no immediately hostile actions, efforts begin to open a dialogue with them. The film follows a linguist (Amy Adams) as she attempts to learn the aliens’ language and what their mission on Earth is.

Great premise, but it’s got a lot of problems.

For one thing, this is an extremely slow movie. I wasn’t exactly expecting Arrival to be a breakneck thriller, but there’s slow, and then there’s tedious, and this is definitely the latter. A great deal of this movie is taken up by nothing but long, long shots of the actors staring morosely into the middle distance.

Something else that really got under my skin was how “AMERICA **** YEAH” the story is. While the ending rectifies this (a little), most of the time this is a movie about enlightened Americans saving the world while evil or incompetent foreigners risk ruining everything.


I would have expected a movie like this to be a bit more open-minded, a bit more forward-thinking, but no.

The alien written language in ArrivalI mean, I realize it’s an American movie, so they focus the story on American characters for the audience’s benefit. I can live with that. But did they really have to make it so the Americans are literally the only people on Earth who aren’t either miserably ineffectual or actively sinister in their interactions with the aliens?

I mean, America is a relatively homogeneous country linguistically. If anyone was going to excel at talking to aliens, you’d think it’d be one of the countries with multiple major languages. And I’m not just plugging Canada here, because at only two official languages, we’re still lightweights compared to some places.

It should also be noted that this a long way from the cerebral science fiction I had expected. It’s really pure science fantasy — pretty much just space magic. Now, I like me some space magic, so I’m not opposed to the idea on principal, but it’s not what I was expecting, and even as far as space magic goes, it doesn’t add up very well. This is one of those plots that only works if you don’t think about it too much.

There is some merit to Arrival, though. Mainly, the aliens are very well done.

For all the plethora of aliens and other non-humans in fiction, it’s really quite rare to find any truly well-executed examples of the idea. Arrival, I’m glad to say, is one of them.

Unfortunately, to explain what makes the aliens of Arrival so interesting in any detail, I would have to pretty much give away the entire plot of the movie. Figuring out how they think and what makes them tick is the core arc of the film. I can say that there’s some genuine cleverness here (even if, again, it’s best not to think about it too much), and that their art design is fantastic.

For me, the aliens saved what is otherwise a pretty bad movie, but I’m still not going to class Arrival as a must-see.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

In other news…

For my latest article at MMO Bro, I look at alternative progression systems to gear. Because seriously, this treadmill is exhausting.

4 thoughts on “Review: Arrival + New Article

  1. I may not entirely agree with your assessment of “Arrival” (I enjoyed it quite a bit more than you did, I think) but you’ve made some compelling points (the American-centric view, even though the film was shot entirely in Canada by a Quebecois director). And I very much agree with you on “Contact.” “Contact” was the movie my wife and I saw on our very first date (and the hardback book was given to me 30-odd years ago as a graduation gift). It holds a special place for me…

    • Sorry for the delay in approving this comment — it got eaten by my spam filter for some reason.

      Didn’t even realize it was a Canadian production. That makes the whole thing even stranger. I know it was based on a short story — maybe they’re just following the original version of the story? But I haven’t read it, so I don’t know.

      • I suffer an overactive spam filter as well. No worries. As for the short story (“This is Your Life” by Ted Chiang)? I read it after I saw the film, and it’s surprisingly in line with the movie for the most part. Most of the short story’s important beats are covered, though the alien’s intentions are not so literal as they are in the film.

  2. I didn’t see Arrival as a science fiction movie in the traditional genre sense. It uses some SF imagery but it’s more of a psychological drama I would have thought. As such I thought the pacing was fine. Possibly a tad rushed in places if anything.

    I love slow movies though so perhaps my idea of rushed is non-typical.

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