When I watched the trailer for Arrival, fresh from the torture I endured watching Independence Day: Resurgence, I instantly ruled it out as another banal alien-invasion story with slightly better CGI. Seldom do these movies offer anything new, and after so many decades of making such movies, its not hard to wonder that, maybe, there isn’t anything more to explore in this theme. Movies like Arrival, prove me wrong.
12 humongous alien spaceships land on earth, without any hint of hostility. A linguistics professor (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to translate the alien language. Tensions rise as different countries where the alien spaceships have landed, a few inclined to belligerence, try to cooperate in their efforts to decipher the aliens’ purpose on Earth.
There are stretches of the movie, towards the middle, that suffer from extreme inertia. Lack of an enthusiastic background score, and in some cases, any score at all, makes this sluggish pace more palpable. Background scores are usually used as a tool to adumbrate important events in the scenes, but director Denis Villeneuve, doesn’t seem to be a big fan of this technique, as evident from his work in Sicario and Prisoners. This ends up making few scenes feel too slow, which is ironic for a movie whose theme is the nature of time. The visual effects in a few scenes, especially inside the spaceship, feel raw, which is surprising since this is a sharp contrast between the impeccable visuals in other scenes.
The alien spaceship’s gigantic form, paves way for beautiful scenes with wide views of the landscapes of different regions around the world. Amy Adams proves herself to be an extremely talented actress, playing the composed, soft-spoken linguist, using the subtlest facial expressions to convey a complex set of emotions. Editing plays a pivotal role in the movie, with a lot of the plot relying on it, and is handled with great finesse. The greatest achievement of the movie, though, is that it manages to rise above the myriad of movies in the genre, being more than just a sci-fi movie. It doesn’t take the route of an action movie, but chooses the relatively less charted waters of mystery and drama. Its striking similarity to 2014’s Interstellar, becomes evident towards the end, not in a negative way that raises eyebrows, but in a more philosophical view, that makes you think of the nature of space and time and our place in the universe.
Arrival, like Edge of Tomorrow before it, rises the bar for sci-fi alien invasion movies. It is smart, engaging, and beautiful. Aside from the few scenes that made me drowsy because of its lethargic pace and lack of background score, the movie is a masterpiece. It will leave you wondering about it long after you have watched it. I will rate it 9/10.