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Arrival: Explaining it Clearly
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
Science-fiction is a genre that doesn’t get the love it deserves. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, genre films like science-fiction films tend to be ignored by the Academy for major awards. To break this, the film has to be a very “intelligent” film or have a lot of real-world relevance. This is how films like District 9 or Gravity or The Martian can be up for Best Picture. Today’s film shows another kind of science-fiction film that can get the nomination, and for the most part, it seems to be following this trend.
Arrival follows linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the U.S. Government to communicate with an alien race after twelve alien spaceships appear all over random parts of the world. She and another scientist (Jeremy Renner) continue to enter the ship and attempt to communicate with the creatures, trying to use different scientific and language practices to find a way to figure out if the aliens are peaceful or dangerous.
Arrival is probably one of the better science-fiction films in the last few years. For one, it’s a very calm and realistic film. Yes, there are aliens and spaceships and strange mental powers, but it feels very close to the present. It feels like what would happen if aliens did land all over the world and world governments were pressured into speaking with them. Granted, it takes a lot longer for the danger to escalate than it would in the real world, and it’s definitely assuming the U.S. will be one of the more stable governments during such an event (these days, that idea is laughable). Still, this does mean it’s very easy to access the film and not feel weighed down by the setting or the science.
The science and the language is easy to understand for the most part. Once it’s clear how the aliens communicate and how the characters can figure it out, it’s just a matter of time until the characters figure out exactly what they need. Sure, the viewer isn’t going to understand all the smoke rings that spell out words like coffee rings, but at least it looks cool and it's clear the characters can understand it.
Because of this, the viewer is able to focus on the story and the journey. They’re able to ease into the world and the environment Adams and the other characters are in. This even makes the aliens easier to accept as time passes, despite their completely bizarre designs. It also lets the viewer enjoy more of the central performance of the film.
Why, oh why, was Amy Adams ignored at this year’s Oscars? Adams is probably one of the better actresses of her generation, and losing five Oscars in ten years makes her look like the bridesmaid compared to her other contemporaries. It’s a real shame she was ignored this year. She’s a very expressive actress and can portray a wide range of emotions, delivering performances full of heft. She’s also naturally sympathetic, with her wide eyes really capturing how Dr. Banks takes in the wonder of communicating with extraterrestrial life. Her snub is one of the worst of this year’s ceremony, and I know there will have to come a day where she wins for once.
What else can Arrival win? I think Arrival has a pretty good chance of winning some technical awards, such as Visual Effects and Art Direction. I don’t know if it has the traction to win anything major like Best Picture or Best Director for Dennis Villeneuve, but it’s still a very good movie regardless. I don’t know what kind of legacy it will have, or if it will be loved by a wide audience years from now. Either way, Arrival is a decent genre film to be a part of this year’s Oscar pool, and I hope more films like it will show up in future ceremonies.
Tomorrow: After rescheduling and other nonsense, I finally get to see Fences. This is the last film of the lot, so let’s hope it’s a good closer.