Friday, 18 November 2016

Film Review: "Arrival" (2016).

"Why are they here?" This is the fundamental question asked in Arrival. This science fiction drama thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team - led by expert linguist Louise Banks - is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers - and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

The short story, Story of Your Life, was written by Chiang in 1998. The story explores the themes of determinism, language, and the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis through the eyes of its protagonist Dr. Louise Banks with her first encounter of the heptapods. The short story won the 2000 Nebula Award for best novella. For years screenwriter Eric Heisserer had been trying to pitch an adaptation of Chiang's short story, Story of Your Life, to no success. Meanwhile, Director Villeneuve had always wanted to make a science fiction film for some time although he "never found the right thing." It was as though the project would never see the light of day. That was until producers Dan Cohen and Dan Levine approached Villeneuve about a potential sci-fi project and introduced him to the short story which he immediately took to, although his work on Prisoners (2013) meant that he could not commit to the project. After the completion of Sicario (2015), Villeneuve was able to rework the first draft. Villeneuve ended up changing the title in part because the resulting script became so far removed from the short story as well as the fact that "it sounded more like a romantic comedy." After going through "hundreds" of possible titles, the filmmakers finally settled on Arrival, which was the first title the team came up with. The biggest challenge for the filmmakers was the Heptapods' unique alien language. For that, Villeneuve and Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language. Heisserer, Vermette and their teams managed to create a "logogram bible," which included over a hundred different completely operative logograms, seventy-one of which are actually featured in the movie. Villeneuve and the writing team took extensive efforts to ensure the movie's scientific ideology was accurate. Renowned scientist and tech innovator Stephen Wolfram and his son Christopher Wolfram were consulted to ensure all terminology, graphics and depictions were sound. They were vital in helping create the alien language for the film, for which they used the Wolfram Language. By June 2015, Adams, Renner, Whitaker and Stuhlbarg had been cast.

Principal photography began in June 2015 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. To achieve the visuals of the film, Villeneuve, Patrice Vermette (Production Designer) and Bradford Young (Cinematographer) deviated from usual visual science fiction elements and took a more unique and fresh approach. For the look of the film, "Dirty Sci-fi" is what Villeneuve and Young called the look they created together. Villeneuve wanted it to feel like "This was happening on a bad Tuesday morning, like when you were a kid on the school bus on a rainy day and you'd dream while looking out the window at the clouds." Scandinavian photographer Martina Hoogland Ivanow was a major influence on Young's look of the film. Especially, her exhibition and book Speedway. For the design of the alien spacecrafts, it took its inspiration from an asteroid called 15 Eunomia. During research, Villeneuve became attracted to Eunomia's "insane shape like a strange egg" and thought that kind of pebble or oval shape would bring a perfect sense of menace and mystery to the spacecraft. In addition, the craft also resembles Swedish candy "lakritsbåt" (liquorice boat). For the Heptapods themselves, Octopuses, whales, elephants, and spiders were all sources of inspiration when it came to creating the aliens, Abbott and Costello. Villeneuve wanted their design to evoke a very strong presence, an air of intelligence, and the feeling of being close to a "huge beast underwater". He also wanted the aliens to feel like something you might imagine in a surreal dream or nightmare and, in the later stages of the film, he wanted them to be suggestive of the Grim Reaper. For the film's eerie and unique sound, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson began writing the score as filming commenced, drawing on the screenplay and concept art for his inspiration. He developed one of the main themes in the first week using vocals and experimental piano loops. After the film's completion, Chiang gave his approval of the film, saying: "I think it's that rarest of the rare in that it's both a good movie and a good adaptation... And when you consider the track record of adaptations of written science fiction, that's almost literally a miracle."

The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma. The cast all gave stellar performances, especially Adams whose fragility and ultimately humanity grounded the film and carried the film forward.

Arrival represents more of the thrilling, thought-provoking, and visually resplendent film-making moviegoers have come to expect from filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. The film is as visually and conceptually audacious as anything Villeneuve has accomplished, proving itself to be his most personal film. It is on par with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as Hollywood's most cinematic study of extraterrestrial life. Movies like Arrival help explain why most big budget Hollywood movies today leave me feeling empty and unsatisfied. The film carried a more philosophical portrait of the science fiction genre than did other films, without giving into satisfying the typical cravings of the general public who simply want to be entertained. It is a forceful reminder that Hollywood is still capable of making movies like these. It's a shame that they do not have the spirit to produce more. In the end, the film is a glorious spectacle and drama, with all of its characters imbued with humanity and depth.

Simon says Arrival (2016) receives:

Also, see my review for Sicario.

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