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.

Sigh.

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.

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Review: Dark Matter, “Nowhere to Go” (Series Finale)

A very inconsistent season of Dark Matter ends with a season finale that is also somewhat inconsistent. (And I finally get to see it; thanks for taking your sweet time, Microsoft.)

A promotional image for Dark Matter season threeRyo receives a stay of execution as Teku arrives at the helm of a fleet of Zairon warships, extending an olive branch. Through little more than dumb luck, Teku has stumbled across a crucial piece of intelligence: the location of Ferrous Corps’ secret war fleet.

The time is now right to deal a decisive blow to Ferrous and end the corporate war for good. But as is so often the case on Dark Matter, not all is quite as it seems.

In many ways “Nowhere to Go” is Dark Matter at its best. It’s got all kinds of twists, reversals, and betrayals. It’s got action and excitement. It’s got yet another performance from Jodelle Ferland that makes me want to reach through the screen and hug her. And it builds to a heart-stoppingly intense climax and the most dramatic cliff-hanger yet.

Still, there are some things that don’t sit right with me.

I think their reason for not killing Ryo immediately is a good one, but I’m not ready to forgive him, and I’m not sure I want to see him back as a member of the crew. I’m torn because Alex Mallari Jr. is a great actor and I’ve been a fan of his character from the beginning, but after all that’s happened, it just doesn’t feel right for Ryo to be accepted back into the fold. And frankly he just worked better as a villain.

It also seems like we may have lost a cast member again, and I’m not sure what upsets me more: the possibility this could be another fakeout, or that it could be another real death. We’ve had too many of both, and it’s getting tiresome.

The cast of Dark MatterThere’s also the lingering legacy of the missteps that have dogged season three. This should have been the season of the corporate war, but it’s ended up as something of an afterthought, and even now at what is supposedly its climax, it’s not really the focus. We didn’t even get to see Nieman.

This is as much a complaint about the season as a whole as the finale, but I am also disappointed by how the blink drive was introduced as this amazingly powerful thing, and then it’s ended up being used for pretty much nothing. Feels like the writers didn’t know what to do with it and just wanted to put that arc behind them.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

EDIT: Shortly after posting this, it has come to my attention that Dark Matter has now been cancelled, which makes this the series finale rather than the season finale.

Well shit.

Obviously I’m upset at this news. I may not have been entirely thrilled with the quality of this season, but it’s still a show with a lot going for it, and certainly the first two seasons were all but flawless. Dark Matter really deserved a chance to redeem itself.

I have recently learned that the show’s creator, Joseph Mallozzi, had the series’ entire plot arc mapped out from day one, with the plan for it to play out over five seasons. I very much admire that kind of forethought, and it made me eager to see how the rest of the arc was going to play out. I suppose now we’ll never get the chance to see it. That seems like a terrible waste.

I just hope the new Star Trek show is good, because otherwise we’re entering into another very bleak period for sci-fi TV.