by Brad Nelson 3/11/17
Let me first off say that this movie passes the Tarzwell Rule which is “Good enough to sit down and watch for light entertainment and a bowl of popcorn.” Pat, we’re indebted to you for this insight. But does this cosmic-surfboard-comes-to-earth movie stand up to its high reputation?
Only if monkeys come flying out of my…Betamax. This review will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned. But can a rotten egg really be spoiled by setting it on the sidewalk for all to see?
Twelve alien ships (that look like elongated eggs from the first view you get of them) come to earth and hover just above the ground across the globe, seemingly in random locations. There’s one is America. One in China. A couple in Africa. You get the picture. The setup to the movie is okay. In fact, although this could be called the first major estrogen-laced sci-fi movie of any note (it’s more about “feelings” than fighting), the slow buildup up to, and just past, the point that you actually see the aliens makes for a good movie.
And then it all becomes implausible and the plot falls back upon horrid cliches. And the time-travel gimmick at the end is bolted on, but it at least keeps estrogen levels high. There’s lots of “feeling” and “relationshipping” in this movie. And, to be fair (as our Timothy would say), I’ve had it up to here with many testosterone-laced sci-fi flicks that are full of mindless shooting.
Arrival errs on the side of estrogen. There’s hugging and girlish flashbacks and soft-focus memories and regret and about 1000 cc’s of estrogen altogether. Okay, I’ll admit aspects of this are refreshing compared to so many of the mindless male-dominated shoot-em-ups that pass for entertainment. I don’t mind different.
And this might have held together as a movie if it had delved more into the translation of the alien language, and the investigation of their intent. The movie certainly gives all indication that you will get, well, if not a Sherlock Holmesian (perhaps Nancy Drewian is more apt) extrication and elaboration of the mystery, at least a fairly detailed and sensible one.
But the first half of the movie all goes away as then bits and pieces of numerous previous sci-fi flicks and cliches are thrown in as patchwork. A shame. Given the general dumbing-down of our culture and its tastes, you could consider Arrival as a decent enough movie, graded on the idiot curve. And it certainly had potential. And if you like soaking in estrogen instead of lead, it may be your kind of movie.
But it’s another failed attempt at telling what could have been an interesting story. What indeed if aliens came to earth, and not to blast us but to give us something useful? And what if we first had to learn to communicate with them? Well, what we got was stupid aliens who made no attempt whatsoever to prepare for smoothing over this interaction. They just stand behind glass and blow weird-looking smoke rings.
This is the kind of movie that will kill you if you think about it and expect it to make even a vague bit of sense. But because more and more people can’t tell sense from nonsense . . . well, no wonder the generally high ratings for this movie. But by all means, if you are a sci-fi fan as I am, watch it once. And then erase it from your memory.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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