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Arrival opens in theaters this week to somewhat unusual critical acclaim: as of this morning, it is enjoying 95% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But should you take the kids? Read on to find out.
1. What is it about?
The movie is based on the short story “Stories of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. For those who haven’t read it: strange alien craft suddenly appear around the globe, and it’s up to linguistics professor Louisa Banks (Amy Adams) to try to interpret their language and figure out what they want.
2. Wait. The hero is a linguistics professor?
Yep. And a theoretical physicist, but the movie is more about linguistics than physics. Oh, it’s also about love and hope and loss.
3. That sounds kind of heavy. Is it?
In a lot of ways, yes. The opening sequence of the movie introduces Adams’ character as she receives the news that her daughter is going to die from a rare disease. But at the same time, as I said above, the movie is also about love and hope and finding oneself. While a few parts of the movie got to me, I didn’t walk out of the theater in tears or feeling at all depressed.
4. Will I like it?
I suspect so. Arrival is the 94th movie I’ve seen this year, and by far the best. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t top my list of movies for the year. It’s a movie that has really stuck with me, too–I’ve basically been thinking about it all morning–and one I’m definitely going to need to see again.
5. Will my kids like it?
Younger kids will probably find it confusing and boring. While the trailers show a lot of alien encounters and guns and ships, it’s not an action-adventure sci-fi film. Most of the movie is the characters talking to each other. And the final resolution is likely to confuse younger viewers as well. Older teens, however, will probably enjoy it.
6. What’s it rated, and why?
The MPAA rated it PG-13 for “brief strong language.” I recall one utterance of the “f” word, but beyond that nothing really stood out. The only violence in the movie was off-screen, and there’s no sex or nudity at all.
7. I’m a big fan of the short story. How close does the movie stick to it?
Surprisingly, very close. I wasn’t familiar with the story at all when I saw the movie, but a friend loaned me the book that contains it so I read it this morning, mostly so I could answer this question. The broad themes of the story are all there in the movie. They change some details: as I mentioned, the daughter in the movie dies from a disease, not a rock climbing accident, there are only 12 alien ships, and, somewhat oddly, the male lead in the movie is named Ian (played by Jeremy Renner) instead of Gary. The movie changes the technology a lot, replacing the communication screens that the aliens use in the story with the giant pods that the characters actually go up in. And it adds a level of international political intrigue that isn’t the in the story at all. But overall, you will definitely recognize the story in the movie, and I don’t think fans of the story will be disappointed by this adaptation.
8. What did you like so much about it?
In addition to the superb job done by all of the actors (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adams get some notice come awards season for this movie) and the very intriguing story, the movie is just visually stunning. Most of it takes place in a bright green field in Montana, with this stark brown alien thing hanging over it and more than one shot of fog rolling slowly over the hills. All we see of the interior of the ship is a big brown cave with a bright white screen at the end, and the things director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young do with that set are truly incredible. But what really makes it stand out is the alien language, which, in the movie, is formed by the aliens ejecting what looks like the ink squids and octopi use for self-defense from one of their hands, which then morphs into these gorgeous symbols in mid-air. It something that really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. While Doctor Strange is certain to dominate visual effects awards in the winter, I’d argue that the effects team from Arrival deserves all the recognition they can get.
9. When’s a good time to sneak out for a restroom break?
Just after the team’s first contact with the aliens, they return to the military base and talk about what happened. It’s shortly before the half-way mark of the movie, which runs for just shy of two hours, and while you’ll need to hurry, you won’t miss much. Most of the rest of the movie is full of information that will become important later, so I’d suggest you try to stick it out.
10. Should I see the movie in theaters or can I wait until it comes to Netflix?
The movie is so visually stunning that I’d strongly suggest that you see it in theaters. It’s well worth the cost.