Review – Arrival

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Review – Arrival

You guys, I don’t know how to write a review for this movie, I really don’t. I can’t spoil anything about the plot, and I promise I won’t, but all the things I loved most, the things I really want to talk about, are all part of the things that need to surprise you when you see it. Which leaves me talking around the edges of everything I loved.

Plus it blew my mind, it really did.


It’s up for Best Cinamatography, I could talk about that. About how the camera angles and lighting and colors gave everything the coolest, most disturbing but strangely…comforting? Atmosphere?

I could talk about how it’s up for Best Editing too, how the cuts from past to present kept you on your toes for the whole movie, how the scenes of science and math and language went on just long enough to fill you in but never long enough to get bogged down. And at the same time, how a sustained view would drag out the tension to the point where you couldn’t breathe, just waiting for something to happen. And the payoff for that waiting was always always worth it.

I could mention how totally unsurprised I am that it was nominated for Best Production Design, because everything in it, from the ship down to the military camp tents seen from the helicopter, it all looked fantastic. Not to mention the splashier effects where things got…odd.

I could point out that there’s a good reason why it’s nominated for both Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, because I can’t remember the last time a movie sent chills down my back just because of what I was hearing. Plus there’s a lot of great work with ambient noise and music, and even technically tough things like a conversation over a microphone in a noisy helicopter. It’s a thing you always notice when it’s done badly and rarely comment on when it’s done well, and this stuff was done extremely well.

(Jóhann Jóhannsson really should’ve gotten a nod for the score, which did so much for the tension and alienness of the movie. I’m going to buy the hell out of that soundtrack. Did you know Jóhannsson and director Denis Villeneuve worked together on Bladerunner 2049? I’m over the moon.)

I’d mention that it deserves the nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but I’m not familiar with the original work by Ted Chiang. But you can be damn sure I’ll look it up now. It’s a smart movie, but it’s also a clever movie, which isn’t the same thing. There’re connections that I’m only just now making in my head, hours later.

Plus the whole talk about how language works is easy to understand on the surface of it, but has layers and layers you can peel apart the more you think about it, especially if we get into how we perceive linear time, and how we might see it differently if our brains worked that way. (I keep thinking, what with language and sci fi and time, it combines the good parts of Scott Westerfeld, C.J. Cherryh, and early John Varley. And I mean the really good parts.)

I might also point out that Amy Adams should have gotten the nomination for Best Actress, because she owned that role and wore it like the most badass battle armor ever, but that’s how it goes sometimes. And Jeremy Renner was excellent in a quieter, supporting role, but I think you know my obsession there, and the fact that he looked awfully foxy in those glasses probably goes without saying.

And I could say that Best Director and Best Picture often go hand in hand, and this is certainly the case here. Because it was all done so brilliantly. To take such an essentially quiet movie and somehow ramp up the tension and keep it up for a whole two hours is so impressive. To have a movie with so little violence, and still make the sight of a doorway seem terribly ominous, and a change in orientation completely threatening…that kind of subtlety isn’t always that powerful, but wow. No jump scares, no gore, and I was still crouched down in my seat for the whole movie.

And even after all that, I still haven’t gotten into what I loved best, because it would spoil everything if I said anything. So you’ll just have to go see it, and tell me what you think.

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