SGNEWWAVE Presents – Arrival (2016)

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

Arrival is the latest work from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whom directed Sicario in 2015 and Prisoners in 2013. The film tells a story of a linguist assigned to decipher an alien language after aliens arrive on Earth. Despite not being the first film about an alien race making contact, Arrival manages to be the one of the most original, being a unique and interesting rendition of the alien subgenre and the science fiction genre as a whole.

The film feels both grounded and far-reaching at the same time, with very mature themes and complex ideas being explored through dialogue and character interactions alone.

Despite its genre, the bulk of what makes Arrival a great film stems from the story it tells, rather than the flashy camerawork and visual effects. Without spoiling too much, the film’s story is told in a very unique way, utilizing filmmaking techniques that most directors choose to avoid in fear of appearing “pretentious”. The way Villeneuve uses this technique not only subverts such expectations, but works around them to create a great twist. The twist in question is also not unlike that in The Prestige – extremely well executed and not in-your-face, the kind of twist that builds up and that the audience eventually catches on and puts the pieces together, the kind of twist that rewards people that pays attention.

The film mainly deals with the concept of communication, and its importance in the grand scheme of things. This concept is explored in great depth with Amy Adams’s character trying to communicate with the aliens and the various superpowers in the world struggling to communicate with each other. As the film progresses, the contrast between the two becomes more and more evident, and more ideas are being blended in the mix, which raises many thought provoking questions like “How much can we achieve as a race if we were to work together?” and “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”.

Amy Adam’s performance as Louise Banks is award-worthy to say the least, and it is a travesty that neither her performance in Arrival nor Nocturnal Animals were honored at the Oscars. Despite her roles in both films being two vastly different portrayals of two completely dissimilar characters, both portrayals exude a certain je ne sais quoi, with her character in Arrival being portrayed with such powerful emotions of wonder, grief and worry all at once. With 5 Oscar nominations, this film and Nocturnal Animals under her belt, Amy Adams has proven herself as one of the greatest actresses of her time.

The cinematography and visual effects, though used sparingly in the film, still provide a certain degree of visual eye-candy, despite Roger Deakins, Villeneuve’s go-to cinematographer and also one of the best in the industry not partaking in this project, Bradford Young still manages to capture some incredible shots, especially those inside the alien spacecraft, where he manipulated shadows and lighting to create an ominous yet hauntingly beautiful environment. The score by Johann Johansson perfectly complements the images portrayed on screen, and enhances emotions felt by the audience.

All in all, every single element of the film, no matter how minute has been meticulously fine-tuned by Villeneuve, making for one of the better Science Fiction movies in the past decade. The film currently has 8 Oscar Nominations, and I won’t be surprised if it ends up taking home half of them. This film also more importantly makes me excited for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to one of the greatest Sci-Fi films of all time, Blade Runner, which Villeneuve is directing.


– This movie is based upon the short story “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang in 1998.

– Amy Adams was the first choice for the role of Louise who then agreed to the role within 24 hours of receiving the script.

– Director Denis Villeneuve and the writing team took extensive efforts to ensure the movie’s scientific ideology was accurate by consulting with renowned scientist and tech innovator Stephen Wolfram and his son Christopher Wolfram to ensure all terminology, graphics and depictions were sound.

– The film’s composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, stated he started recording the score before the film had even started filming, and he and director, Denis Villeneuve like to work on the music as the director’s films are being made. This also marks their third collaboration after Prisoners and Sicario.

– Ted Chiang, who wrote the story the film is based upon, stated that the film is almost literally a miracle and that it’s both a good movie and a good adaptation, especially when considering the track record of adaptations of written science fiction.6. Arrival is the Academy Award winner for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.


By: Zach Wee

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