Telluride 2016: Villeneuve's 'Arrival' is Intelligent Sci-Fi for the Times

September 4, 2016

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival

Before returning to our condo and beginning this review, I stopped for a few minutes and stared up at the stars. Here in Telluride you can view them so clearly, but this time I felt a renewed sense of wonder after emerging from one of the most intelligent alien sci-fi movies since Contact. It's a major milestone in sci-fi, the next step in the non-stop evolution of this exciting genre of cinema. Arrival is a phenomenal film, an extremely intelligent yet captivating story brought to life in the most invigorating way by director Denis Villeneuve. It's one of those brilliant movies that actually makes you appreciate all that sci-fi can offer, making you think intensely about life, the choices we make, and what place humans have in the universe.

Arrival features a screenplay written by Eric Heisserer, and it's easy to tell his heart in sci-fi and this is one of the best scripts he's written so far. Right from the start, you're instantly pulled in to a story about a human being - spending the next two hours learning what it means to be human and learning that maybe there's more out there than we think. I love the way the script never stops to answer any questions, and it doesn't cut to moments of exposition to explain what's going on. We follow Amy Adams, one of the leading experts in linguistics, who is brought in by the military to help communicate with aliens who have landed in 12 different ships at various location around the world. What she experiences, we experience, and it's that intimacy that makes this film even more personal. The way it unfolds will make true sci-fi nerds so happy.

Denis Villeneuve takes Heisserer's script and makes it believable, makes it feel even more real and instills it with emotions that make the cinematic experience so exhilarating. Villeneuve is a visual master and he proves that once again, with every sleek shot being perfectly composed thanks to his very talented director of photography Bradford Young. So often I was wondering how they pulled off these shots making it seem so easy. Every reveal in the film, from the unveiling of their arrival to the aliens to every other shot of the ships, is beautifully conceived and perfectly executed. The score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is haunting and enchanting, adding even more depth. It's the kind of score that often makes you wonder if these mysterious sounds are coming from the aliens, and it's so eerie at times that it gives you goosebumps, in a good way.

I hate to admit it, but Arrival won't be for everyone. It's not an action movie, it's more of a drama, but it's also thrilling smart sci-fi that will light up the minds of those who love to look up at the stars and wonder when we'll make first contact. And the major twist in the third act, which is not something to be discussed until you've seen the movie, is clever and awe-inspiring. You will want to discuss it with friends as soon as it's over. What Christopher Nolan wanted to achieve with Interstellar is actually achieved with Arrival, and I think it's actually just a bit better than that movie (and I do love that movie, too). It shows that sci-fi is one of the smartest ways to make us reflect more on our own choices and who we are as humans, as individuals.

It doesn't matter if other people don't like this movie or critics find some flaws in it, it's a major milestone for science fiction. It's another evolution in sci-fi storytelling, borrowing some good ideas from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Contact and Sphere and Interstellar and taking them one step further. And at the end, instead of going big or going insane or throwing in some gimmick, it gets back to the heart of the story, to the emotions and potential for hope and for change. Which is exactly what great sci-fi is best at - making us see that we need to change, and we can change, if only we open our minds just a bit more than we're doing now. As a huge fan of sci-fi, I can confidently say that Arrival is one of the best sci-fi films of this new era, and I can't wait for everyone else to experience it, too. Don't spoil it before, go in fresh and see for yourself.

Alex's Telluride Rating: 9.9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing

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  • cuckoozey
    Fantastic to hear Alex, as if I wasn't excited enough already for this film...
  • Trey
    I have been debating to people that this movie is going to be what "Interstellar" was supposed to be. I have not even seen it and you have confirmed my suspicions. Thanks
    • InNolanWeTrust
      I see little similarity between the two. This is more akin to say Contact with Jodie Foster.
      • Trey
        But Interstellar was supposed to be "Contact 2.0"
        • InNolanWeTrust
          According to whom?
          • Trey
            First...according to the original script that was floating, before Nolan watered it down and changed key Sci-fi elements Second the marketing they were doing
          • InNolanWeTrust
            Wrong on both counts. The script was based on the work of Kip Thorne and he specifically wanted to explore the limits of both time and gravity which were major plot points of Interstellar. Although Kip Thorne was involved with the screenplay for Contact the main focus of that movie was the same as the Carl Sagan novel which was communication with an alien race. Never once in any of the marketing did I see anything comparing it to Contact. It would be fair to say that it was trying to be the next 2001 since the primary focus was on interstellar travel (hence the title). To suggest that Nolan "watered it down" is amusing.
          • Dominic
            I should point out , that the theme of " First Alien Contact " was done , and done well , long before Sagan ,Thorne , Contact , or Interstellar ... in Books , before sci-fi movies . That theme has been plumbed since the 1850's So you're arguing minutiae , when what Alex is apparently saying is that it takes the theme to a better direction than ANYTHING he's seen before . Movie-wise , at least ...
          • InNolanWeTrust
            Not quite sure what that has to do with our conversation...can you dive a little deeper?
          • Dominic
            ;?)) you're arguing Contact and how it was brought to us , but that's not the point of the article . Point of article is what I said : alex thinks it's the best First Contact movie ;ever .. and i said it's an old theme ; and has LOTS to compare to and supercede .... by ur handle I would assume you think Nolan's done better ?
          • InNolanWeTrust
            All we are discussing is whether or not this is the "spiritual" successor to Contact or whether it's what Interstellar was striving to be. We are not talking about quality or who invented the premise. We are simply comparing it to recent movies that may or may not be similar. Why would I think Nolan has done something better when I haven't even seen this movie?
          • Dominic
            Because most Nolan-items that post in movie forums are pretty rabid in their affection for his movies .... The conversation went " into the weeds " , because there is more to compare this movie to , rank it among , than those two movies , or who wrote , directed , or produced them ...
          • InNolanWeTrust
            We are free to compare this movie to whatever we want to. If you're not interested in comparing this movie to Contact and Interstellar then feel free to remove yourself from it.
  • redtie
    If you don't have money to see the the "Arrival" in theaters, I suggest watching "The Arrival," starring Charlie Sheen. I haven't seen it in years, but remember it being solid sci-fi.
  • Prisoners was solid psychological thriller. Sicario was beautifully directed. Enemy, I didn't click, but I admired the vision behind it. I will certainly go to see Arrival, as I'm a huge sci-Fi fan. But I am really intrigued by his next project, Blade Runner. i know he is a big fan of this movie, but could he deliver a great sequel? i really hope it.
    • Bo
      Yea, for me Prisoners was just kinda okay, but I liked Sicario and still think this director's best work is Incendies. Alex here seems to think this new sci-fi movie is pretty good and I like what he has said about it in the article above. So, I for sure will take a look at it. I hate to be apprehensive about anyone doing a sequel or whatever of Blade Runner, because that was an excellent film with an excellent cast and will be very difficult to pull off. Gotta admire this director's resolve that he can indeed do so, but I'll have to wait and see. I wish him well. He's certainly knows how to make a movie though.
      • I have just one apprehension: the return of Deckard. I would have preferred a new story that has nothing to do with the original one. The only character I am interrested in for this sequel is the universe. And they have yet to find a composer of the highest caliber. Vangelis score is a masterpiece.
        • Bo
          Yea, I agree with you on all accounts. Plus, I'm not a big fan of Harrison Ford, especially now. He was pretty good in the original, I'll give him that, but I've no interest in seeing him returning in this one. Vangelis' score certainly was something to behold. No way they'll match that and another reason I've no real interest in this sequel or whatever the heck it is.
          • He didn't age well. He ain't Max von Sydow.
          • Bo
            It ain't that. His age. It's that he ain't no Max von Sydow who is a great actor. Ford isn't. That's what it is. For me
          • A shame Max von Sydow was totally wasted in the force awakens, which you probably didn't see. ;D
          • Bo
            I did not and shall since my first exposure to von Sydow was the films he make with Bergman. The great The Seventh Seal in which the knight that he plays engages in a chess match with death. One doesn't see that anymore in today's
          • You should definitely watch it, at least for Ridley Scott. She's so candide you would want to hug her.
          • Bo
            Watch what, tarek? You lost me here. And who's so candide I would want to hug her? Lost again. Is it me, that's lost? you?...hmmm...
          • ;D
          • Bo
            Okay, last time I'll try, tarek. You didn't address my 2 said I 'should definitely watch it' and I don't know what you mean I should watch. You also said in the same post that 'she's so candide you would want to hug her' and I don't know who this 'she' is you're referring to fill me in on those two references?...Please?
          • We were talking about the force awakens. You told me that you didn't and shall not watch it... As for the candide girl, I was talking about Daisy Ridley, the main protagonist of TFA ( The Force Awakens).
          • Bo
            No wonder I couldn't figure it out. Re-read your original reply to me and you write Ridley Scott instead of Daisy Ridley. Can you blame me for getting just a wee bit thrown by that? No interest in hugging Mr. Scott, but I sure think this young actress is attractive. Though I'll have to wait to see her work in something other than this Star Wars stuff. Oh...thanks for clearing this up as I've had many a sleepless night trying to figure out what the hell you gator...
          • Oh, snap!! How did I write this? I wasn't on LSD. I swear. ; D I understand now your non undersatanding.
          • Bo
            Glad you do and I too now understand my non understanding...brings to mind the old Led Zeppelin song that goes...'Communication's always the same..having a nervous breakdown...going insane!' I'm going to be alright now...thank you, Sir!
        • RAW_D
          Yeah, I'm hoping the Blade Runner sequel isn't for the sake of a sequel...but...I'm afraid it is.
          • Until now, only two directors have succeeded in pulling a great sequel out of a great movie: Cameron with Aliens and Nolan with Batman begins. I love noir films. I love Sci-Fi. Blade runner was the best of both worlds. So I hope they are working on a great script for this sequel. At least they didn't dare to reboot and ruin Blade Runner, like they did with Robocop, Conan, Total Recall, Terminator genisucksis and every failed attempt to reboot a classic.
        • rauloid
          considering the original Blade Runner didn't show even half of Phillip K. Dick's story from 'Androids..', there would be plenty from that story they could use
          • Amen to that my friend.
  • Eggyweggs
    Why mention there was a twist!? I find it infuriating when reviews do this. The idea of a twist is you don't see it coming and now I know to expect one! >:(
    • InNolanWeTrust
      I have to agree with you. A seed has been planted in your mind and it will become a distraction. It might even bias your reaction since now the twist has to be compared to whatever your anticipation has predicted. You'll be looking for it in every scene. Trying to out smart the movie before it out smarts you.
      • Nah, don't worry, I heard about it before too. And the film is crafted very beautifully and you'll just get lost in it, and you won't know what's coming. Just watch and enjoy.
        • Bo
          Excellent advice to those that worry probably a wee bit too much, Alex. Which is their right, of course. Hopefully they shall follow your advice. You really liked this movie and that is also a wee bit
        • Eggyweggs
          Thanks man.
    • Dammit. I was just wanting to see comments. Now you mention a twist. Thanks pal.
    • Steven
      The twist is there isn't one.......
      • Bingo.
      • They better not be allergic to water. :o)
        • Steven
          Reshoots are called for following that comment.....
    • Jorrell Mcdaniel
      So what? You have no idea what it could be unless you start digging for the answer. Are you gonna watch the film, wondering the whole time "Oh I`m watching this, but fuck Alex mentioned that twist in the third act!! Argh!!" LOL. It's not like Alex said Amy`s head explodes 17 minutes into the film.
      • Eggyweggs
        Yes I will. I will be constantly thinking about the upcoming twist, which is why I said it pisses me off when people mention twists.
        • Jorrell Mcdaniel
          If from opening credits to when the twist arrives, if that`s all your mainly thinking about...your crazy LOL. Just relax & watch the film. Or don`t relax, whateva haha
  • Lagoya
    I really want to see this but I don't trust Villeneuve, Enemy was one of the worst films I've ever seen and Sicario was trash. This doesn't look like any of those films but you never know, it's difficult to trust critics.
    • Bo
      Interesting opinion and I won't argue with you on any of your points; except that I don't think Sicario was trash. It wasn't that bad, was it, for you?
    • Instantly lost any credibility and reduced to troll status. Sicario surely by any standard was not trash. Fuck off.
      • Lagoya
        You mad bro? I didn't like the movie. It's a bit childish to use such profanity isn't it?
    • You don't trust Villeneuve????? Really that's the most stupid thing i heard in a long time, besides hillary becoming president... Everything he makes is from extraordinary level...
      • Lagoya
        I hated his previous films for reasons explained, so no I don't trust him. Enemy actually made me angry.
    • Lagoya
      I'm sorry but the only thing half decent about Siccario was Benicio del Torro at the end of the movie. Emily Blunt had nothing to do with anything! She may as well not have been in the film. They should have concentrated on Del Torros story. The ridiculous plan to get into Mexico which took up 75% of the film was pointless. Don't even get me started on Enemy, that was like a poor man's Donnie Darko, with a silly spider at the end that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. I need an MIB mind wipe to remove every last trace of that mess. 'Arrival' looks good, but so did Siccario from the trailers, so I don't trust Villeneuve.
    • rauloid
      SIcario trash?? what a troll!! LOL
    My friend told me about the book awhile ago. It sounds quite good. I am very excited for this movie. I am ready to be ARRIVAL'd.
  • I am so totally in for this. It's about time for a smart sci-fi movie... Great review. Ps the nice guys is by the way one of the best movies of 2016... thanks for the tip...
  • RAW_D
    Excellent review! I'm stoked to see this, and to say it's a step above Interstellar is HIGH praise indeed. It sounds like this movie doesn't treat it's audience like an idiot, and allows them to experience everything just as the characters do. Hollywood take note! We're not all morons who need everything spelled out for us! It's an experience, not a paint-by-numbers explanatory script!




Alex's Top 10 - 2016
1. La La Land
2. Paterson
3. Arrival
4. Captain Fantastic
5. 20th Cent. Women
6. Pete's Dragon
7. Jackie
8. Kubo & Two Strings
9. Everybody Wants
10. Wilderpeople
Click Here for Thoughts

Jeremy's Top 10 - 2016
1. Moonlight
2. The Handmaiden
3. High-Rise
4. Elle
5. Arrival
6. Kubo & Two Strings
7. 13th
8. Jackie
9. Toni Erdmann
10. The Witch
Click Here for Thoughts


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