I've always been fascinated by science fiction movies - good ones get me to look at the world differently while great ones get me to think differently. These movies, to me, represent the fantastical limits of our imaginations as human beings while still remaining in the realm of the possible.

The possibilities of science fiction movies are literally endless. Beyond the usual summer blockbusters like Star Trek and a small franchise called Star Wars, intelligent space-themed movies have been having a resurgence as of late, with titles like Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian to name a few.

Crafting a movie that can stand among these films is no simple task. Great science fiction movies require tremendous balance in execution across multiple aspects of the production. The science has to be compelling, but easy enough to understand. It also needs to be interesting enough to draw the audience in but never too outlandish that it comes off as absurd and dumb. The characters and the story told both need to be relatable as well. For every film like The Martian there would probably be five or more bombs like Passengers.

Every once in a while though, a science fiction movie comes out of nowhere and not only executes this balancing act perfectly, it also transcends it and goes beyond normal expectations.

That movie is Arrival.


Twelve mysterious unidentified flying objects suddenly appear in twelve different parts of the globe. The planet plunges into panic as the news that we are not alone in the universe spreads and it is up to the different governments of the world to find out the details why these beings are here. They seem friendly enough, but how can we be sure? The only way to find out is to communicate with them. The problem is, no one knows how. 

As mankind scrambles to learn exactly why the aliens made contact, America (of course) sends her best minds on the case. Lois Lane and Hawkeye are tasked with establishing communication with the aliens at the American UFO site, but as we all know with movies like these, making sensible conversation with alien beings just isn't going to happen.

Now, first encounter movies are a dime a dozen so you would probably be hard-pressed to find a movie with this premise nowadays, but Arrival throws away every preconceived notion of what a first encounter movie should be. It not only manages to craft a well-balanced, grounded, and believable film, it attaches itself to a scientific premise that not only integrates itself within the story, it freakin' turns into the story itself (more on that later).


Arrival
sets itself apart from every other alien encounter movie by consciously focusing on one thing as its center - linguistics. By doing this, it establishes itself as a cerebral movie right from the get-go. You won't be treated to scenes in which a country deploys a fleet of jets and bombs the hell out of the alien ships.

"48 hours in, and they expect us to know all the answers already", is a line from the opening act of the movie that sums up what the governments of the world would probably say if this really did happen today in the real world.

This is one of the strengths of Arrival. It creates a believable environment in what is essentially an inconceivable and highly improbable event. The chaos that ensues due to the scarcity of information, insane conspiracy theories, and absurd amount of misinformation is spot on. Not only that, but the governments' cautious approach regarding unknown threats of this scale is portrayed really well. Considering these things, it is amazing that Arrival still manages to keep the plot focused on making contact with the extraterrestrials.


It is so refreshing to see a sci-fi movie actually show characters acting like, well... humans. And I mean that in the best possible way. Anchored by the extremely talented duo of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (a linguist and a theoretical physicist respectively), both of them nicely showcase the human aspects of the film. Through them, Arrival eases us into the meat of the movie - why the aliens made contact. I would like to think that when aliens actually appear out of the skies, mankind will show the best that it has to offer when confronting the biggest event in the history of... well, ever.

Accompanied by a score that I can only describe as haunting, Jóhann Jóhannsson creates a beautiful score that emphasizes the serene yet complex tone of the movie. The music sucks you in and makes you feel the sweeping emotions that the film wishes to convey.

Now we get to what makes Arrival truly a gem - the science. Dennis Villeneuve uses the concept of time being non-linear to absolute perfection. The man struck the perfect balance of not hurting my wee little brain and presenting an immaculately unique, undeniably grand, and complex product.

Arrival's biggest reveals never came as a huge shocker; it's too smart for that. It just holds your hand and guides as you slowly unravel everything from the very beginning. No shocking twists, no gimmicks, just pure, intelligent, high-level storytelling.

Now as this review ends, you're probably wondering why I never once mentioned the word "language" for a movie that is focused on communication and contact. Arrival works beyond every narrative cliché that you would expect from a similar film. It takes preconceived notions in sci-fi flicks, from how to talk to aliens to how a first contact movie is made, turns it over its head, and breaks barriers.

Arrival emphasizes that language is nothing without the reciprocal understanding of both parties involved; something that the movie perfected with the audience itself. By doing this, it delivered a truly magnificent science fiction movie that has the potential to be considered as one of the best ones ever made.



About the author: Don Cabuhat

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