Imagine one day you’re sitting in class or at work and your phone rings. You look down at it like you have done a million times before, but this time it’s very different. You pick up the phone and you are urged to turn on the nearest television. When you do, you are met with images of strange looking extraterrestrial spacecrafts that have docked in random locations across the globe.
The new film “Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a new way of telling a classic Hollywood story. I have seen countless alien films, from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to “Independence Day;” still, I haven’t seen any alien film with the same storytelling perspective as “Arrival.”
Seeing past works from Villeneuve such as “Sicario” and “Prisoners,” I expected to see something different; I expected to see an avenue of storytelling that might not fit your everyday big budget Hollywood film. This was exactly what I got from “Arrival.”
Amy Adams plays the lead as Dr. Louise Banks, a professor and a top expert of linguistics. She is given the not-so-simple task of figuring out how to communicate to these beings that have just landed on Earth. She has little time to understand the language of the alien species and figure out their purpose on Earth.
Jeremy Renner plays the supporting role as Ian Donnelly, a physicist who needs to work with Dr. Banks in order to find out what the other worldly beings want before it is too late. Both characters have good chemistry together and as the story progresses, we as an audience want to see them succeed.
Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber, a rough-and-tumble army official that is constantly in search of results. Whitaker’s acting is superb and is what you would come to expect from him at this point in his career.
That being said, the character he portrays is exceedingly predictable and appears as the military tough guy we have seen in a hundred different films. Whitaker’s character seems like he is just there to move the story along, as we do not get much backstory or character development from him.
An actor I was particularly curious in seeing in this film was Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Agent Halpern, a stern government executive that is heading the U.S. investigation of the alien ship.
I have been a fan of Stuhlbarg ever since I saw his quirky persona playing a head engineer of Apple’s Mac computer in last years Danny Boyle directed film “Steve Jobs.” Unfortunately, my high expectations fell flat.
Stuhlbarg played the typical government agent that gives orders and wanted answers. On top of this, like Whitaker’s character, Agent Halpern had little to no character arch and was mainly used as a device to drive the plot onwards.
The pacing of the film was well-timed and allowed the viewer to fully understand not only what was going on in the U.S. but also around the world after the arrival of these ships.
The one aspect of the film I did have a bit of a problem with was the computer generated images. The estimated budget for this film was right around $50 million. This seems like a large sum of money but for a Hollywood science fiction alien film, this quantity of money is practically a drop in the bucket.
With $5 to $10 million more put into the film, they could have cleaned up some small aspects of the CGI that looked somewhat amateur in their composition.
Let me emphasize that the CGI is not bad in anyway shape or form. Let me also state that the film is beautifully shot and does a fantastic job of laying CGI in over raw footage.
Still, at times the CGI is unarguably underwhelming, bland in color and lacking in texture. Visuals that were almost purely CGI could have heavily benefited from the use of practical effects.
By now you are probably asking yourself why you should pay to go see a film that has predictable characters and a plot line that has been repeated again and again in cinema.
Why should you go see a film that has insipid CGI effects that pull you out of the film periodically?
If you are asking yourself these question and you have read thus far in the review, then the only answer to why to see it is because you are clearly invested. Any film that you are interested in, is worth going to see.
“Arrival” is unique in the way it is set up. It takes a big picture idea like extraterrestrial life and reduces it down to the concept of language and being able to communicate to those of which we cannot understand. It explores a story that might possibly happen if we ever came in contact with intelligent beings from beyond our solar system.
“Arrival” reaches out to those thirsty for a different kind of story, one that is both intelligent and interesting, a story we have seen many times over, now told in a new way.