Arrival (2016): A Great High Concept Sci. Fi. Film That Just Needed More Heart

arrival

   “Arrival” is a film I really enjoyed but could have been better and more. Non-spoiler thoughts up front…at times it drags and there just isn’t enough heart as there are two characters we don’t really get to know which gives the film the detached feeling of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I’d still recommend it though.

   The film was directed by Denis Velleneuve, written by Eric Heisserer and produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde while being based off the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

   The story involves linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) being called onto the scene of First Contact as strange alien pods have touched down all over the world and humanity is attempting to communicate before other countries decide to attack them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! Countries act with fear but also with openness too as their societies crumble from the masses unable to take first contact, but they go forward anyway. This universe is full of stakes that make the importance of first contact all the greater. The aliens also have a cool squid like design.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially in how it presents the inside of the UFOs and the outside as they float above different areas of the world. It keeps the mystery and suspense up just seeing them as the music plays. Bradford Young did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Johann Johannsson did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that reminded of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and with it power and mystery as the aliens aren’t so much a threat as a great unknown. The soundtrack captures this beautifully in how limited it is.

Louise – Amy Adams is the best part of the film as it is her relationship with her daughter and those in the future that help her solve the problem of first contact in the present. She is really cool and I liked how human she was. She was anxious and nervous but went forward anyway because she wanted to and she knew what was at stake. The only thing that felt tacked on was her romance with Ian.

Cyclical Time – In this time is cyclical and it is events in the future that prep Louise to solve the problems in the past. From General Chang telling her what they talked about that made him call off his attack on the aliens, to her daughter and her marriage to Ian. This changes her as she now perceives time as the aliens do.

Okay: Ian – Ian is just kind of there. Renner does a good job with him but he is mostly a support character and he isn’t given the chance to really make his own decisions outside of how they relate to Louise, so more could have been done with him.

Colonel Weber – Whitaker does a good job with what he’s given but Weber’s motivations are never fully explored. He is supportive and antagonistic at different points but we never get why. He just represents the U.S. governments reaction to the project at the end of the day.

Okay/Con: The Ending’s Length – The ending goes on way too long and could have just ended with Ian and Louise starting their romance and it would have been fine, instead we see the future with them talking about having a kid (who we know will die of cancer later). It could have been cut down and been the more powerful for it.

The Cons: Pacing – Segments of the film drag, especially after first contact is made and they are figuring out how to ask the aliens for their motivation. The switch from understanding one another from not is really quick too which made the pacing all strange and didn’t help the film.

Detachment – The film is a bit too detached at times. For example we don’t learn anything about Ian until the very end when his romance with Louise is a major part of the film. He is still great and is given chances to shine but we never really get his motivation at first beyond Scientist Stereotype (loves science to science!). I think if there had been more of a core and less detachment the script would have explored that better.

   This is a film well worth your time. I wouldn’t consider it in my Top 5 of 2016, but it is still a film I’d highly recommend. The detachment of the narrative didn’t change the fact that I cared about Amy Adams’s character and was rooting for first contact to be successful. In that way it as a successful “Twilight Zone” episode as even though it was detached I found myself still really enjoying the story, even if at times it dragged. I you are a fan of sci. fi. like I am, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.1 / 10

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12 Days of Doctors – The 1st Doctor – Season 1, Episode 1 – “An Unearthly Child” – An Okay Start

An Unearthly Child

“An Unearthly Child,” with William Hartnell is the first ever Doctor Who episode. The episode was broadcast on November 23rd, 1963. The writer for the episode was Anthony Coburn and Webber and the director was Waris Hussein. This was a big risk to take, no one had really done the concept of the time traveling man in a tv series before this. How does the episode hold up? Well I’ll get into that in the assessment.

“An Unearthly Child,” begins with two teachers Barbara and Ian worrying about their new pupil Susan who has been both super brilliant and in their minds oblivious on a lot of things. When they go to where she lives they find nothing there but eventually are drawn to a police box. From here they run into The Doctor her grandfather and the conflict unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

Pros: The idea – The idea is fantastic. A time traveling alien who looks like us visiting the present with his granddaughter. Why is he there? Why can’t he get home? These are the questions that are posed to us in the first episode as well as reveal how would a refugee alien interact with species that he is so much more advanced than technologically.

An Unearthly Child 13

The First Doctor – I like the First Doctor, you have a guy who tackles the world from a point of separation because for him most of this has already happened, not to mention he fears Susan getting hurt or people learning about who he is initially. It is only because of Susan that Ian and Barbara learn who he is and he deals with their denial of it (largely from Ian) for a good portion of the episode. I don’t know anyone who would willingly choose to put up with that. He is old but he is also childlike too, at one point he traps Ian and Barbara and when Susan says she will leave him with them…leaving him alone he turns on the T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) in order to run away from them revealing him to the world and running away from Susan leaving. This running is a major part of his character and why he wasn’t on Gallifrey in the first place. Hartnell is fantastic in the role.

TARDIS An Unearthly Child

The T.A.R.D.I.S. – Looks like a police box, inside is shows the larger interior of the space ship. It is a great introduction to this vehicle and we get to see it go back in time when the First Doctor runs away with them in it.

Okay/Con – The Companions – The teachers are concerned but are unable to accept the truth that is right in front of them, Susan is also pretty useless too. She is the innocent who must be protected and the one time she tries having agency leads to the Doctor running. Susan, Barbara and Ian are basically generic people in this…which is a shame since Susan is a Time Lord too, but we don’t really get that beyond her knowledge that she most likely got from the Doctor, making her no more than a generic human companion who those with agency (the Teachers and the Doctor) try to protect.

Execution – The teachers are stalking a student because they are worried, and Susan does not look 15. This would have worked much better at a British University or school where her disappearance tied to her age would be more noticed, or cast someone who looks like they are a teenager.

So, how is the first outing with the Doctor and our first time with the First Doctor? It is Okay. The T.A.R.D.I.S. and the Doctor are the best parts, but the script isn’t really elevated. I would have continued watching if I was watching it when it first aired cause I’d be curious where they were taken to and I would like to see more character development from the companions and learn more about the Doctor. I wish the Doctor had been introduced earlier in the episode, we don’t even meet him until it is already halfway though and Barbara and Ian cannot carry the script.

I recommend it because it is the first episode, but it is very average and forgettable. Going to give it an extra point because it does introduce us to the Doctor and the T.A.R.D.I.S. though.

Final score is 6 / 10.