Well it’s been a while, life got in the way of the cinema brain, still been going but not blogging. But I just saw a film that switched cinema brain back into gear.
This blog will be short, because I will not do spoilers and it’s not a film you can write much about WITHOUT spoilers. So without further ado…
I hadn’t seen any of director Denis Villeneuve’s work before this, though Sicario has long been on my list, and of course we all know he will be taking the helm of the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 (no pressure) but judging from Arrival, he is tremendous. The improvements in CGI and visual effects, as well as an increasing need to market to the chinese movie market, have seen Sci-fi as a genre, stray into nonsensical, loud, disaster-movie territory. These blockbusters make you weep for the quiet tension and subtly of films like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even recent efforts to bring the genre back to a grounded and intelligent base, Nolan’s Interstellar for example, are still executed on a massive scale and employ huge showy set-pieces to sell the story.
IMDB quotes Villeneuve as saying he wanted Arrival to feel like “This was happening on a bad Tuesday morning, like when you were a kid on the school bus on a rainy day and you’d dream while looking out the window at the clouds.” In some ways, Arrival moves at a fast pace, dropping you straight in with a devastating opening montage, and only minutes later putting us on board the Chinook, seeing our first proper view of the arrived ship. However,this pacing allows acres of space for some chest-tighteningly good sequences of film, all based firmly in the real world, allowing the alien to be just that. The initial reveal of the arrival of the title is given through news footage, half glimpses of the alien craft from mobile phones, this means that the pay off of the long, Chinook-eye first view of the craft is wonderful. Cinematographer Bradford Young’s work is stunning – long, slow shots that capture the inherent uncomfortable feeling that only good Sci-fi gives you, like the real world but somehow not, quite, right. This film is intensely intimate and yet vast, ambitious yet personal.
The best Sci-fi has to be lead by someone the audience cares about, and the central character, Louise, is only topped by Ripley as Sci-fi lead for me. This is very much Amy Adams’ film, as Louise she brings us a subtle, quiet performance (Oscar surely!) she is always utterly convincing and never over the top. It is her performance that keeps the audience grounded and interested, without her this film would not work. Though ably supported by Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and a host of minor male characters (seriously Hollywood where were all the women, I know there are more women in the military than exactly zero) the film remains squarely on her shoulders, a task Adams embraces and delivers with all the skill you’d expect of an actor at the top of her game.
I found myself holding my breath a lot throughout the film, the claustrophobic feel of the opening encounters and the slow reveals used to unfold a story that will leave you breathless as the connections are made. For me, I was left profoundly moved, suddenly aware of tears falling and left with the same feeling of shell shock you get after closing an utterly absorbing book, where you sit and stare into space, only to open and read the last page again, to check.
The walk home left me with more questions unfurling in my mind, making new connections and wondering what if. The beauty of excellent Sci-fi is when you pay attention to the details, the science and linguistics in the film have been praised as accurate and the film captures the essence of what makes us human, when held up against something so literally alien. This is an absolute gem of a film, the best I have seen for a very long time.