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

Find more posts: Review, Sci-Fi, Telluride 16



Fantastic to hear Alex, as if I wasn't excited enough already for this film...

cuckoozey on Sep 4, 2016


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

Trey on Sep 4, 2016


I see little similarity between the two. This is more akin to say Contact with Jodie Foster.

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 4, 2016


But Interstellar was supposed to be "Contact 2.0"

Trey on Sep 4, 2016


According to whom?

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 4, 2016


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

Trey on Sep 4, 2016


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.

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 4, 2016


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 ...

Dominic on Sep 7, 2016


Not quite sure what that has to do with our conversation...can you dive a little deeper?

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 7, 2016


;?)) 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 ?

Dominic on Sep 9, 2016


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?

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 9, 2016


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 ...

Dominic on Sep 9, 2016


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.

InNolanWeTrust on Sep 9, 2016


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.

redtie on Sep 4, 2016


One of my favs! A bit cheesy but Charlie killed it!

Sascha Dikiciyan on Sep 5, 2016


Arrival was a great movie, no doubt..

ari smulders on Sep 6, 2016


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.

tarek on Sep 4, 2016


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.

tarek on Sep 5, 2016


Yeah, I'm hoping the Blade Runner sequel isn't for the sake of a sequel...but...I'm afraid it is.

RAW_D on Sep 6, 2016


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.

tarek on Sep 6, 2016


He didn't age well. He ain't Max von Sydow.

tarek on Sep 6, 2016


A shame Max von Sydow was totally wasted in the force awakens, which you probably didn't see. ;D

tarek on Sep 6, 2016


You should definitely watch it, at least for Ridley Scott. She's so candide you would want to hug her.

tarek on Sep 7, 2016



tarek on Sep 7, 2016


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).

tarek on Sep 7, 2016


Oh, snap!! How did I write this? I wasn't on LSD. I swear. ; D I understand now your non undersatanding.

tarek on Sep 8, 2016


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

rauloid on Sep 12, 2016


Amen to that my friend.

tarek on Sep 12, 2016


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.

DAVIDPD on Sep 5, 2016


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?

Bo on Sep 5, 2016


Instantly lost any credibility and reduced to troll status. Sicario surely by any standard was not trash. Fuck off.

Sascha Dikiciyan on Sep 5, 2016


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...

ari smulders on Sep 6, 2016


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...

ari smulders on Sep 6, 2016


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!

RAW_D on Sep 6, 2016


SIcario trash?? what a troll!! LOL

rauloid on Sep 12, 2016

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