Arrival (2016) – The movie

4 mins read

The film you shouldn’t miss

Rating – 5 stars. Premise. Alien first contact. How will we talk to them when they land? Three word review. Must watch, brilliant. 

I have always had a weakness for good science fiction. When I heard about the premise for Arrival and saw its original trailer, I was hooked. While not a big fan of Amy Adams (she just wasn’t my version of Louis Lane), I was intrigued by what Jeremy Renner said about the film – It was a thinking person film.

A sci-fi feature length attraction that can be classified as good, original, fresh, and a thinking person’s film all at the same time is a rarity. As a regular movie buff who loves film as a medium but is often disappointed I have learned to brace my expectations. Be prepared to be let down; don’t let your expectations carry you away. Enjoy the medium.

My first foray with this particular film’s history – Ted Chiang’s short story titled “The Story of your life” was disappointing. I understood the premise but I hated the story.  I found it difficult to visualize or imagine how someone could turn that particular format into a film that would hold an audience. There are short stories and then there are short stories, I wasn’t really smart enough to appreciate Ted’s work. There you go, I am brave enough to admit it.

Despite my disappointment, Ted is considered a critically acclaimed sci-fi writer. He is not well known nor is prolific with this writing outside the community but within the group of sci-fi authors he has a strong following.

Any questions I had about how Ted’s brilliance would translate to film were answered one Monday in December, when we sneaked into the last show of Arrival in Dubai.  Let me be clear, it wasn’t the top film on my list to watch on that weekend. I like Jeremy Renner, I like sci-fi, I like film and I am crazy about first contact features. But because I had read the original work, I didn’t have any expectations. The top movie on my watch list that weekend was Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  Arrival was the pre-fodder we would watch while we waited for the A-list feature to be released.

There is always an air of anticipation about the choices a film maker has made when it comes to rendering the story on film. Reading the original work on which the film is based certainly helped. Without that background I don’t expect I would have enjoyed my ninety minutes as much as I did. Because I loved the speed with which the film set up Amy’s character and the smoothness with which it transitioned her life into the film’s main timeline. But it takes more than that to hold one’s attention and the real surprise in Arrival was this – the original short story is done and dusted with in the first twenty minutes. I actually remember thinking. Ok, so we are done, now what are we going to do with the remaining 70 minutes?

Denis Villeneuve answered that question beyond my expectations. Taking the simple premise behind Ted’s story – that learning a new language rewires our brain, the package Denis put together blindsides you. And that is all I am going to say without giving it away.

A thinking person’s film is a film that leaves you in awe in your seat. A film where you gaze in wonder as the ending credits roll by and say – wow that was an experience, and I am not ready to give up my seat as yet. I need a few minutes to catch my breath and appreciate what just happened here.   Just like savoring the last bit of flavor from a world class meal, the richness and lingering aroma of that light post meal chai Irani.

Entertaining science fiction with special effects and CGI is easy. Allright, allright, not easy but it certainly is common place. While Arrival does put the black arts to work the movie is more about what we see and feel than about what is animated; more about what is not said and shared, than about what we do see on the screen.

This is not something that one generally expects from the genre but in the end Arrival is less about science and physics and more about the choices we make.  And their consequences.  The film is beautifully crafted, shot and directed, matched with a haunting sound track. The cinematography and the editing will leave you wanting more. It’s not just a thinking person’s film, this one is a piece of art. And while I really really really hate to admit, it has finally turned me into an Amy Adam fan.

Ted Chiang’s original short story raised some very interesting questions. It was a short story that I didn’t get. Arrival the film on the other hand bring that story to life with such vibrancy and force that you cannot help but think and respond to the underlying questions.

We both sat beyond the ending credits because we were so moved by the experience. The first time this happened with me since I started keeping track was with 12 Monkeys, the film that made me a Bruce Willis fan. The next big one was the Matrix, the last Source code with Jake Gyllenhaal.

If you can catch it, catch it on the big screen. If you can’t, find a copy, grab a bag of munchies, snuggle up to a loved one and enjoy the show. You will thank Dennis Velleneuve, Ted Chiang and the rest of the team for it.

Ps. We made the mistake of watching Passengers after Arrival. If you have other movies on your list of things to do, take care of them first. Because after Arrival, you won’t be able to sit through them.