Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Film Review No. 26 Arrival (12+)

Strong Points:
Tense atmosphere
Film focussed on sounds instead of camera shots
Great acting
Interesting aliens
Great CGI
Use of wide shots (not focussing on people talking) was unnerving
The alien's language
A talking point

Weak Points:
Difficult to hear some characters
Debatable to say something was achieved by the end
Thrown in at the deep end
A jump between first connection and learning all about the aliens

In-depth Review:
Never has a film made me focus so heavily on the sounds rather than the visuals, or made me deeply tense and uncomfortable while nothing really happens. Arrival is a science fiction film, chronicling a first contact scenario between humans and the mysterious Heptapods. These Heptapods don't have the Deus Ex Machina Universal Translator app so many aliens have nowadays (maybe they didn't get to Prime Day on time and they ran out of stock), so the first job is to figure out how to communicate with these aliens.

One of the only times I didn't feel a tightening in my chest while watching the film was during Ian's (played by Jeremy Renner) monologue about learning the alien's language - it was the most stereotypical scene in Arrival. I can't say I completely understand what made the rest of the scenes so tense, but it had something to do with the simultaneous connection and non-connection with each shot the viewer had, due to the combination of wide shots (showing little features of each character, especially at the beginning) and loud, constant sounds. It was really well done, even if the removal of many close-up reaction shots didn't help us to read what a character was saying while they're voices were overtaken by another sound (or in the case of Forest Whitaker, just being quiet).

The aliens were both stereotypical and original in design. They weren't humanoid for starters, knocking the idea that humans believe the only things that can be as smart as us have to look like us, instead, being squid-like in nature (which, to be honest, is still mildly stereotypical, where are the giant cacti aliens, eh?). The focus wasn't really on what the aliens looked like however, instead more being focused on how they sound and communicate and that's what Arrival nails. The language, creating instantaneous meanings out of circle like objects (instead of the linear sentences we have) were fascinating to watch, and the sounds the aliens made were like a mixture between static and whale sounds (the two opposite ends of the sound spectrum in terms of simplicity) which was both eerie and calming at the same time.

Talking of language, I actually found it really interesting to learn about (even if some 'facts' weren't exactly true, as said in the story) and realise just how complicated grammar is to an outsider - it certainly made me feel better about struggling with MFL's in GCSE! One of my favourite scenes was when Louis was explaining to Colonel Weber why simply asking the question 'why are you here?' is extremely difficult to do when the other party doesn't understand your language. It's a shame they couldn't spend even more screen time explaining how they understood the alien's language, resorting to the trope of 'it taking a really long time to make a breakthrough and then skipping to the end result' movies often do. I understand why they had to, the film had to be of a reasonable length of course, and we only needed to know enough to understand the ending but still, it would've been nice to see them uncover more secrets of the alien's language.

Now I have mixed feelings about both the time idea and the end (something I won't spoil here) as it simultaneously works and doesn't. By this I mean, you could say the twists were well conceived or that they purposely put the first scene in the film just to mess with us. The language part was also so grounded in reality, that to throw in the end seemed a bit too... Hollywood. It still left me sitting there for a while after it finished, so the film obviously did something right.

The CGI was practical and inextravagant - it wasn't the main focus after all. The ship, however, was a thing of beauty in its simplicity. A mix between a crescent moon and a magnetic bead you often get in airports, it was so at ends with the landscape that it just looked really good, simple as that.

To end this review, I've got to talk about the acting with an impressive as always Amy Adams (who I'm surprised wasn't nominated for an Oscar, especially for her work in Nocturnal Animal as well in 2016) and Jeremy Renner, who I'm embarrassed to say I've only really seen in the Avengers movies, so was pleasantly surprised by his versatility as well.

Conclusion: this really is a thinking man's sci-fi film, and if you were looking for something a bit more Star Wars I'd recommend looking elsewhere (especially as you are thrown into the deep end at the beginning), however, if you're looking for a discussion starter then there isn't a lot of excuse to not watch this film and get talking!

Rating: 85%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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