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Arrival: A Blockbuster With Meaning

By Michael VerMeulen     12/1/16 10:56am

 If you’ve been to the movies recently, you probably saw a big-budget fantasy/sci-fi adventure, a family-oriented animation or a cheap horror film. Mostly, these movies provide surface-level entertainment and escapism without challenging their audiences. With some exceptions like “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “Zootopia,” big studio movies have ditched intelligence in favor of the lowest-common denominator.

Enter “Arrival,” the new science-fiction picture from acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve. Arguably the finest movie released in 2016, “Arrival” delves into questions of communication, unity and life with incredible depth while delivering a fascinating story that keeps the viewer at the edge of their seat. In the film, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) must work with the United States government in order to find out how to communicate with extraterrestrials who have arrived in 12 UFOs across Earth for unknown reasons. Alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of fellow linguists, Louise makes progress in interpreting the aliens’ language.

I will not give anymore details on the plot of this film, as this is a movie best experienced with as little prior knowledge about it as possible. Audiences will not be able to predict where the story is heading, unlike other alien-centered films like this summer’s “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Movies like “Resurgence” are the exact antithesis of “Arrival,” throwing out all logic and subtlety in favor of one-dimensional characters, loud explosions and half-baked nostalgia. Audiences know that humans will save the day in the “Independence Day” sequel just like they did in the original, and they know that the aliens won’t be treated as intelligent beings but as malicious cannon-fodder for their “heroes” to attack in ridiculous action sequences.

“Arrival” barely has any action sequences during its two hour runtime, instead focusing on conversations between Louise and the mysterious extraterrestrials as well as Louise’s attempts at further understanding them. The movie wisely takes its time during these scenes, allowing the characters to work through their dilemmas with stunning realism and for the storytelling to be fully realized without the rushes or gaps that often accompany Hollywood blockbusters.

By moving at its slow and steady pace, Arrival makes time to insert important themes and messages into its tale that are increasingly relevant to current events. Throughout the film, Louise and the United States government cooperate with the other nations who have UFOs in their airspace in order to advance the world’s comprehension of the extra-terrestrials. Tensions arise in these efforts just as international collaborations do in real-life, and unforeseen complications bring about great tension to the entire operation. Following this, the film’s climax relays morals about the importance of harmony among peoples as well as the necessity to understand those who are different than us. These morals are such a timely response to America’s present political climate that it blew me away. They demonstrate a hopefulness and empathy that seems extinct in modern times. They should be shared with everyone.

Arrival is an absolute must-see motion picture, one of the best sci-fi films in years and maybe the greatest overall film released in 2016 up to this point. Big Hollywood studios rarely release multi-million dollar features of any tangible significance, and for them to give us one with as high a quality and as relevant a message as “Arrival” is truly astounding.

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