Arrival Movie Review: You May Have to Sit Through It Twice to Get It

At hearing the title of the new science fiction film from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), my first thought was that one of the Sheen boys had made such a film years ago. Indeed, Charlie Sheen did star in The Arrival (1996), which was a B science fiction movie at best, and failed miserably at the box office.

The synopsis for Arrival [After extraterrestrial spacecraft plant themselves at various locations around the globe, a linguist (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) must find a way to communicate with the mysterious visitors in order to learn what they want and whether they pose a threat to humanity.] prompted thoughts of Contact (1997) starring Jodie Foster, which was a well-executed film that culminates with an incredibly disappointing climax as Foster’s character reaches her goal and disappoints the audience in one scene on a beach. Sphere (1998) with Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel Jackson, also came to mind. Like Contact, Sphere was disappointing, and like The Arrival, Sphere failed miserably at the box office. Obviously, it’s too soon to tell how Arrival will do at the box office, but it is disappointing.

Arrival is an extremely slow-paced tale, filmed only on overcast days, with a distracting soundtrack that sounds like it was recorded at The Aquarium of the Pacific. When we are first introduced to Dr. Louise Banks (Adams), we learn via flashbacks that her daughter has passed away due to an undisclosed illness. At present day, Dr. Banks has shown up to teach her language class. Standing in front of a virtually empty theatre and inquiring as to the location of all the other students, the small group comes to realize that they have managed to miss the biggest news in history.

While the rest of the world marvels and/or panics at the “Arrival,” Banks seems set upon continuing her duties, until the military shows up in the form of Forest Whitaker. Colonel Weber asks her if she can interpret any words from a comically brief recording of alien sounds. Though Louise is unsuccessful, she is eventually whisked off to Montana where she and Ian (Renner) are assigned to lead teams that will work to communicate with the aliens. Once they are introduced to their respective teams, little is seen of the team members again, and Ian adds little value to the task or the film.

We do finally meet those who have arrived. These intergalactic octopuses are able to release ink that they can form into symbols that Dr. Banks is eventually able to interpret. Sadly, this takes far too long to accomplish. By the time enough progress is made, the audience is bored, and China has decided to go to war with the aliens.

The good news is that we’ve been in the theatre for roughly 100 minutes and it’s time for Dr. Banks to save the world and provide a happy ending. The bad news is that we find out that the ending is actually the beginning, Ian did need to be in the story, and the previously mentioned deceased daughter’s name was Hannah because it’s a palindrome (the same backwards and forwards).

Recommendation: Villeneuve tries too hard to make Arrival look and feel like an independent film. Adams gives an intriguing performance but Renner is wasted. You may have to sit through the film twice to “get it,” but you’ll be too anxious to reach the time of departure to sit through Arrival twice.

“Amy Adams as Louise”:

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