Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dead on Arrival

That's a bit of a harsh pun for a title, but it seems sorta apt.

Went and saw the serious, adult type, science fiction movie Arrival last night; and I had deliberately not read any full reviews of it, just in case I came across a spoiler or two.

My verdict:  worth seeing, but underwhelming.  It looks pretty good, and the acting is fine; a very chilly sort of atmosphere pervades the whole film.

The key reveal towards the end, though, seems to be a silly extension of a reasonable idea re the effect of language, as far as I could tell.  There is room for debate, though, I suppose, over what exactly caused the crucial change in our lead character, and whether this was destined to happen to others, too.  While I don't demand that all films involving aliens explain all plot elements with crystal clarity, I think this one could have done with just a tad more exposition.

[Then again, any film that revolves around the importance of languages conceptually is perhaps not one for me:  I've always been a skeptic of the idea that preserving all language is extremely important because our cognitive and cultural horizons are always skrinking when a language is lost.  All arguments along those lines strike me as quasi scientific "just so" stories;  some languages may make some concepts easier to explain than others, but I just find it hard to believe that with any well developed language you can't find a way to get close enough to the meaning expressed in alternative human languages.   And, of course, I'm not talking about fondness any individual may have for preserving a language they grew up with; that's perfectly understandable.  Or people who want to be able to understand something from the past.   I'm talking about the more high minded arguments that seem to me to make a fetish out of  variety in languages.  It is, now that I think of it, perhaps a branch of identity politics - certainly, it is usually those on the Left of the politics who are most convinced about it. ]

But back to the movie.   My other complaints:  looks too often too much like the visual style of Tree of Life (and, thematically, you could also argue the films are pretty similar.)   And the script could have afforded some lightening in tone, just occasionally.   Yes, the unannounced arrival of aliens would be initially mind blowing; but once the planet hadn't been blown up after a few months, some people would surely start to make jokes about it.

As it happens, it was only after I got home that I realised the director was the same guy,  Denis Villeneuve, who made Sicario, the generally well received Mexican drug war film from a few years ago that I watched on Stan a couple of weeks ago.

For me, both films suffer very similar problems:   I thought Sicario was very well directed, looked great, and (like Arrival) does a good job at building up tension.  [And, as a minor observation, both films feature lovely shots of flight.  Villeneuve really seems to like filming flying things.]   But by the end of film, the script had never completely convinced me.   My major complaint - why did the female protagonist stay working for the cobbled together multi agency group so long after she had been convinced in the very first operation that they were really acting like cowboys, above the law?   That just seemed never to be plausibly explained in the script.

Anyway, this post is sounding more negative than I really intended.   Like I said at the start, it's worth seeing, and one of those films which are good at provoking discussion about its merits and faults.   But I don't think it's in any way a classic of science fiction. 


not trampis said...

Steve, do you have any recomendnations i could take the wife to?

Steve said...

Not really...The most enjoyable thing I have seen recently was Dr Strange, but if she is not into Marvel movies done with good humour, I don't know if she would like it. (Mind you, I find it hard to believe anyone could really hate it.)

not trampis said...

My eldest son saw that and thought it was great.