Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arrival Review

It's about time that I get to talk about Arrival! This is a movie that I saw a month ago in preparation for an article I wrote for the Deseret News wherein I previewed the movie following an interview that I got to do with Jeremy Renner. Yeah, pretty sweet gig. But I've been dying to talk about this movie ever since I saw it, but they swore me to secrecy, asking my not to post my opinions about the movie on social media or on this blog. That kinda confused me because the movie already screened at a handful of film festivals starting in early September and had a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes from all those critics who saw it at the film festivals. In fact, it didn't get a negative review from anyone until a day or two before it was released. Even after all the normal critics piled in their reviews, this movie still is at a 93 percent with 197 counted as of the posting of this review. That's pretty dang good. So why the embargo? I don't know. But oh well. I acted like a good little boy and waited impatiently to share my thoughts on the movie. In the meantime I got the privilege of being able to ponder over this movie for a month before typing up my thoughts, which in this case is pretty fortunate because this movie is one that you need to spend some time thinking about.

When I first saw this trailer, I do admit that I was a little concerned at the fact that we were getting yet another alien invasion movie. I mean, the trailer was phenomenal, but what were they going to add to this genre that we haven't seen a thousand times already? Shortly after thinking that I noticed the director. Denis Villeneuve (pronounced "den-ee vil-uh-newv," I learned from my Jeremy Renner interview - he's from Quebec). In Denis we trust. That's a motto I've come to believe in. I haven't seen Enemy or Incendies, but I absolutely loved both Prisoners and Sicario. If Denis wanted to do an alien invasion movie, then I was down. And I prepared myself to love it. And guess what? I did. In fact, it's one of my favorite movies of the year so far. Just keep in mind that this is no Independence Day. By that I mean that this is not an action movie. This is not fast-paced or super intense. In fact, this is a very slow-moving sci-fi film. Ideas, plot, character and theme are what's pushed to the forefront as opposed to fancy CGI aliens and high-paced action. This is not a brainless action movie. In fact, it's the exact opposite, it's a slow moving drama that makes you use your brain.

As far as the plot goes, yeah I'm not going to dive into that too deeply. We're in set in about present day. This isn't a futuristic movie. But randomly there are 12 alien spaceship things that land across the earth, one of them landing in Montana. So our government gets really curious about what these spaceships are doing here since they land without doing much. So Forest Whitaker is a U.S. Army Colonel leads a recruiting process in which he tracks down Amy Adams, who plays a linguist and Jeremy Renner, who plays a physicist. Together those two lead this team of figuring out why in the heck these aliens are here on this earth. And that's all I'm going to tell you. I saw that premise in the trailer and I was wondering if that was a little more than I wanted to know. But no. That's the very basics. And I'm not going to tell you anymore because this is a movie where the less you know going in, the more rewarding your experience is going to be. That means we have this awkward situation where I waited a month to tell you about this movie, but yet I don't want to tell you too much about it, so I'm going to do a lot of dancing around the specific plot points and details of this movie.

I say this movie is a slow burn. And that is absolutely correct. However, this is not a boring movie. The pace of the movie is perfect and it successfully builds and builds to a fantastic climax. There are two major elements that I think heavily contribute to that. The first is the cinematography by Bradford Young. If you are a true fan of film, specifically the filmmaking process, you will practically be drooling at this movie with how perfect and beautiful every single shot is. It's breathtaking. The other aspect is the score by Jóhan Jóhannson. This score is mesmerizing. The score combined with the cinematography makes this a technically brilliant movie and if these two people that I called out don't get Oscar nominations, there's something seriously wrong with this world. There are more criticisms from others that have risen from this movie after essentially getting perfect reviews, but even if you didn't like other aspects of this movie, like the story or the characters, you have to at least appreciate these filmmaking qualities of this movie. What Denis Villeneuve has crafted is an absolute beauty and his talents as a filmmaker are definitely evident.

Personally, though, I really loved the story that this movie told. A lot of the advertising focused on the question of why the aliens aren't here and that's what much of the movie focused on as well. But the answer to that question is not what's important here. Yes, we do get an answer and you could argue that the answer is a little underwhelming. You could also make the claim that the logistics of the alien aspects of the movie are perfect. However, if you want a perfectly logical alien invasion thriller, well... that's kind of an oxi-moron. Aliens showing up to earth is absurd. That's never going to actually happen. That's why they call this science FICTION. Huge emphasis on the fiction. This movie creates it's own thing with the aliens and it's serviceable. If I were to rank the best portrayal of aliens in a movie, this may not score that well. But in my opinion, the alien arc of this movie is more of a means to something greater. The point here wasn't to show a cool story about aliens. The messages and themes of this movie are fantastic. And there's so many themes crammed in here that once it ends, you just have to sit there and unpack it all. The more you unpack, the greater this movie gets.

If I were to give a comparison here, the movie that this made me think of was Inception. And I know that's the second time this month where I've made an Inception comparison, but this for something different. When I first watched Inception, the movie had so many interesting themes all crammed into the movie, that I spent a lot of time pondering this. And I spent hours sitting down and discussing the movie with my friends. While a much different movie, Arrival had the same effect on me. After I first saw Arrival a month ago, I just sat there in that theater during the credits and pondered. I don't want to get into any details as to what I pondered or what these themes are, but I will say that this is a very smart, thought-provoking film. Yes, I can have fun with an action-packed alien invasion movie, but the fact that this movie made me stop and think is something that I absolutely love. Deep, thought-provoking films don't come around too often, so when they do, I take them and I relish in them. Another film that came to my mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey for similar reasons. No, I wouldn't say Arrival is as good as these two movies, but there are elements of this movie that are similar to both of those two, which is why I really loved this movie.

Speaking of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when I talked to Jeremy Renner, he actually compared Denis Villeneuve to Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought it was interesting that this came up in my interview without me even instigating it. Renner did that on his own. Renner also brought up Steven Spielberg when talking about Denis, saying Denis had the best qualities of Kubrick and Spielberg, which is some super high praise. Given Denis' current body of work, I'm not going to argue with this at all. Sure, he's early in his career, but all of his films I've seen of his have been fantastic. And the ones I haven't seen, I look at the reviews and they're all super high as well. If you haven't been paying attention to this man, change that now. Pay attention. He's the real deal. His movies are fantastic. I'd say he's one of the best up and coming directors in the business. As far as other comparisons to Arrival, I've been hearing Close Encounters of the Third Kind quite a bit as well as Contact. Jeremy Renner brought both of those up when I asked him and he's not the first. I haven't seen either of those movies, so I can't make that personal judgement. But I figured I'd throw that out there.

Overall, I've been telling people that I think Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece and I stand by that. The more I thought about this movie over the past month, the better it got. And I even saw it again Thursday night when it opened to the general public and it still stood up. I do understand that this is not a movie for everyone. There's going to be a number of people that aren't that impressed with this movie and that's just personal style. For me, I love thought-provoking films. I love well-crafted films. I prefer story, characters and acting over exciting action and fancy effects. That's what this movie gave. It spoke to me. It made me think. It had themes that I loved. It's a movie that meant something rather than just being a fun, alien movie. If this movie doesn't hit with you, I guess I understand. But with a 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after nearly 200 reviews and an 8.5 on IMDb with 13,000 votes, I think there's enough people on my side to confidently say that this is a must see for everyone. There's a lot that I didn't get into because I want you to go in knowing as little as possible. But I hope you get the gist of what I am saying here. I absolutely love this film. I think it's a sci-fi masterpiece and as such I'm going to do what I haven't done yet this year. I'm giving Arrival a 10/10.

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