The Guardian

Sci-fi film ‘Arrival’ overlooked amidst changing genre

Nic Baggetto, Editor-in-Chief

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In the vein of films like “Interstellar” and “The Martian,” late fall has become the epicenter of space exploration-related science fiction films. This year is no different with November 11’s “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival” tells the story of a linguist who attempts to decipher an alien language when an extraterrestrial species comes to Earth.

While filling the fall sci-fi slot and receiving primarily rave reviews, “Arrival” came in $31 million short of 2015’s “The Martian” in its opening weekend. Underperforming appallingly, the film is worth more than audiences gave it credit for based on its craft alone.

Villeneuve is no stranger to visceral filmmaking and applied his style remarkably with “Arrival.” From the pure sense of scale to the ominously shot alien species, referred to as heptapods, the film sucked me into its world immediately. I have no hesitation in saying it is one of the best, most meticulously made films of the year from a technical standpoint as well as from a story perspective.

What makes “Arrival” unique narratively is that it is the type of film that insists on making its audience think, and it may warrant multiple viewings. Upon the film’s conclusion and the beginning of the credits, I found myself glued to my seat as if the film had not ended, working and reworking subtle story nuisances in my head. Any film that can challenge its audience, while remaining entertaining, deserves attention. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Arrival” is an awards contender.

So why didn’t “Arrival” receive better box office numbers if nearly all of the critics who reviewed it gave it a positive score? In simplest terms: it’s a talking movie. In fact, it’s a talking movie about talking! The profound message the film relays about solving problems through communication instead of violence is completely lost on those who simply wanted to see a sci-fi alien invasion movie with action and explosions.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy an exciting space epic full of actions and adventure, but some are forgetting where sci- fi comes from and what can often be so interesting about it.

When the genre rose to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, the hit B movies of the day would be considered pretty boring by today’s standards. Most of them revolved around human characters in laboratories working to figure out fantastical situations with maybe the occasional spacecraft or robot at the end.

When people compare this past summer’s “Star Trek Beyond” to the original series from the 1960s, they’ll find that all logic has been thrown out the window (pun intended) in favor of extravagant action set pieces. They beat the bad guys with rock and roll. Seriously? “Arrival” treats its story more seriously and excels at being a throwback to old fashioned sci-fi.

The aliens in “Arrival” aren’t glorified. They’re tools used to tell a human story about communication and free will. While I love “Star Wars” as much as the next person, hopefully this new wave of franchise based action sci-fi won’t smother the creativity and uniqueness of thoughtful films like “Arrival.” If you have nothing to do over the coming weeks, I strongly suggest you check it out before it leaves theaters.

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Sci-fi film ‘Arrival’ overlooked amidst changing genre