Arrival is Year’s Best Sci-Fi

Amy Adams Arrival
“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”

If E.T.’s landed on Earth tomorrow, what would you do? If you had the option to change the course of your life, would you do it?

Arrival is the most cerebral experience of 2016, and the intimate nature of the film has everything to do with that.

The film is not entirely original; it takes the age-old science fiction premise of aliens landing on Earth with the panicked world asking: “Why are they here?” But this sci-fi addition has all the right ingredients from it’s cast to director to score to script that produces some serious thought-provoking material. The exploration of this archaic, hypothetical reality leaves me wondering when this inevitable future will occur off-screen. I’m. Not. Ready.

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Arrival gif

 After last year’s drug-cartel flick (one of my personal favorites of the year) Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve adds science fiction to his directing resume. Comparisons to director James Cameron have circulated online, and Arrival’s resemblance to Interstaller is unquestionable. The difference? This film feels more accessible and realistic.

When 12 extraterrestrial space pods mysteriously appear around Earth, the U.S. army enlists linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to analyze the U.S. site in Montana in hopes of communicating with the aliens, known as heptapods (due to their 7-pointed radially symmetrical appearance). “Why are they here? Are they scientists, or tourists?” are the underlying world concerns as panicked nations are on the verge of global war.

We learn in the opening sequence that, like Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, Banks has lost her daughter to disease leaving her emotionally wrought. Amy Adams explains in a voice-over, “I used to think this was the beginning of your story.” What follows is a series of flashbacks of her daughter’s life from infancy to childhood to the argumentative teenage years. She continues, “I remember moments in the middle…and this was the end.” The next scene shows her daughter in a hospital bed and then the bed is empty.

Then the movie begins.

The Atlantic explains this sequence more accurately than I ever could, “The sequence—a brief life encompassed in still briefer summary—is surely among the most heartbreaking since Michael Giacchino’s magnificently versatile waltz carried us through the “Married Life” segment of Up. And while at first it appears to be mere backstory for Adams’s character, it is in fact much more, perhaps the most crucial thread in Villeneuve’s intricately woven film.”

Arrival gif

Can a science fiction film be this year’s Oscar-bait? I asked myself that question immediately post-movie, and I realized the rarity of sci-fi recognition by the Academy.

Prior to 2007, only three such movies had ever been nominated for best picture: A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars and E.T. Arrival could easily be this generation’s Close Encounters, but it’s taking me a heap of effort to convince friends to see it.

What I’ve tried to explain is that Arrival is more focused on the societal response to fear and takes a deeper, intimate look at it’s female protagonist. It’s the anti-Independence Day, which focused on the chaos and Will Smith saving the world. It’s also the anti-Alien, which focused more on survival than world destruction.

Like Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise, Louise Banks is a realistic feminine hero who uses her brains over bronze to solve international crisis. But unlike Ripley, whom we know very little about personally, we’re given a very intimate glimpse of Banks’s personal life. Even Ripley had a daughter she lost, but most audiences don’t know this, because the scene was ultimately cut.

Amy Adams Arrival

“We see to what extent the world is fragile when the slightest event — which is not ultimately threatening — what interests me is the human reactions. Faced with (the aliens’) approach, there is a paranoia that develops and a tension that develops, a disequilibrium. They’re there to teach something, but they don’t have a hidden agenda like in the majority of science fiction. Arrival talks very little about language and how to precisely dissect a foreign language. It’s more a film on intuition and communication by intuition, the language of intuition.” Denis Villeneuve via Deadline

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The many layers and depth of Arrival make it profoundly more relevant in our world today than any other sci-fi I’ve seen in the last decade. There’s a scene of news coverage getting different global reaction-shots when panic strikes, and the image of “Save Our Species” struck me. Banks makes a pertinent point that rings true in the movie as well as our present-day reality, “What better way to force us to work together for once?”

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Newt thanks you for your time.

43 thoughts on “Arrival is Year’s Best Sci-Fi”

  1. You took a totally different angle for the review than me and I love this about Arrival. It delivers so much, that so many things could be said, and we could be discussing this movie for years. I would hope this will make the Academy reconsider sci-fi. I mean, they love Amy Adams, so I’m sure they’ll at least nominate it. For me though, Arrival is a more polished version of Interstellar. And the main reason is the fact that Interstellar tried to show too much, it was too loud, it took the idea too far, and Arrival did the opposite. It had one sci-fi element – the shells with aliens landing on Earth. The rest was all human. It was all Banks and her actions, her emotions, her story, her backstory, her future, her feelings towards these aliens. The fact that the human aspect, and the reality of Arrival, over powers the sci-fi element of the movie, is what makes this the best thing I’ve seen all year.. maybe in the past 5 years even. I now want to see it again though.. like.. right now. 😀

    1. Completely agree with you. Interstellar just wasn’t accessible to me, although I did enjoy it. Arrival just grabbed me emotionally, because of that human element that most sci-fi films are missing.

      1. I’m crossing my fingers for her win.. her previous performances haven’t gotten under my skin so much but this.. it was impressive. I’m going to see Nocturnal Animals this Saturday and I’m 99% certain that Amy Adams will win 2016 from my perspective.

      2. because of that human element that most sf films are missing

        I’d agree with you there. The curious thing is that so much written sf does have this dimension (see just about anything by Robert Charles Wilson or Octavia Butler, for example). It seems that, unlike fantasy cinema, which can be seen as very much part of the same spectrum that contains written fantasy, sf cinema has diverged quite a distance from the written form. Of course there are exceptions — Gattaca and Ex Machina and AI are the first three that spring to mind — but for the most part the movies seem content to stick to space opera and other “action sf” rather than looking to what makes sf interesting to readers like me.

  2. I’m hoping to write a review of this (and Moonlight, which is way overdue) and I agree it’s definitely one of the strongest films of the year and perhaps one of the best sci-fi films EVER! Such an emotional film and I hope Amy Adams will finally get her Oscar this year, possibly even getting double noms (though I haven’t seen Nocturnal Animals yet).

      1. It was indeed! I finally finished my review but I haven’t posted it yet, I’ll be posting my review of MOONLIGHT first, which I think you’d agree with 😉

      1. Yes it’s now a battle between both of them. It’s going to be hard to cut my favourite movies to 10. I have yet to see La La Land (which I read your review for and I always like your controversial opinion ;p), Manchester By The Sea, Fences and Rogue One.

      2. Haha I was trying hard not to be controversial, but maybe the hype just built the movie too high for me? Let me know when you see it…I’ll look forward to your thoughts!

      3. I will! I don’t have that high expectations because I’m not big on musicals so I may find it surprising who knows.

    1. I think it’s a really well-made film that is deserving of Oscar chatter…just like Sicario that got completely ignored. I’ll be curious to see if Adams gets a nod for her performance.

      1. I adore Amy Adams, one of the most reliable actresses out there today. I need to catch more of her movies as I didn’t realise how many she had been in. And if you’re interested I just reviewed the film Gone Girl, which I just watched for the first time.

  3. Still thinking about this film even now. It works so brilliantly well on a second viewing as well. You pick up on SO MANY things. Great review as always!

    1. Thank You 🙂 !! I’m thinking it about seeing it again in theaters, because of all the subtle details I missed the first round. I’m sure it’ll be exceptional twice around!

    1. Damn…it already left your cinema?? I was going to say that this is one to definitely catch on the big screen, but see if however you can. It’s the best of 2016 so far in my book!

  4. Great piece of writing here! I loved this one, as it seems most have. Like you I found comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind immediately (it’s my second favorite movie of all-time), yet this one goes deeper into the questions of the boundless possibilities of the human mind.

  5. I think I need to see it again to form a definitive opinion. The story captivated me while the time aspects and aliens confused me. I really enjoyed it, even if I didn’t fully understand everything! As you did, I liked the message. In regards to the motherhood aspect, there’s a spoilery article at glamour ( ) which I recommend.

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