This week I’ve watched the 2016 movie Arrival and honestly I was less than impressed. I think it’s a disappointing movie, but one that’s still worth watching. Here’s why.

Arrival has a 8.2 score on IMDB and a 94% rating on RottenTomatoes and it’s about an alien invasion (of sorts). Arrival does have an original plot. Arrival has very good cinematography. Arrival even has an interesting plot-twist at the end. So what’s wrong with the movie? In my opinion it lacks in attention to detail and it introduces events and characters that seem to have no bearing on the story. It’s like some parts were given a lot of attention, and other parts were just put together quickly and forced in. The cinematography is very good and the plot is original. The characters, however, are very one-dimensional and the hero is too perfect. All in all, the plot seems to be the main character here.

Plot

A bunch of space ships touch down on earth, one of them in Montana, others in Russia, China, etc. The army takes control of the situation in Montana as everyone assumes the aliens want to take over the planet. The army then recruits Louise Banks, a linguistics professor, to head a small team of people to try to establish contact with the aliens inside the spaceship. Of course she does this successfully and major catastrophe is averted. Humanity (in the form of Louise Banks) is given an awesome new technology and it seems that the movie really wants to make clear that we should cooperate more with each other, and especially with China.

What I didn’t like in the movie

1 – The audio in the beginning

A lot of information in the beginning of the movie is given through radio messages, TV broadcasts, phone calls etc. This makes the audio bad and distracts from what is actually going on. I was more focused on trying to understand what was actually being said than on the movie plot.

2 – Recruitment of Banks

The main character of the movie is a female linguistics professor called Louise Banks. Banks is recruited by the army to help in establishing communication with the aliens. This might make sense given the plot but after eventually seeing how communication is established with the aliens, I started to wonder whether a couple of actual language teachers or coaches wouldn’t have been a better choice. What makes someone with the title university professor better at teaching than an actual teacher or coach? Sure, Banks might analyze the results better than anyone (but probably still with a whole team of linguists) but does she really need to interact with the Aliens given the way the actual interaction is done?

The way Banks is recruited is even weirder though. A U.S. Army officer walks into her office, asks her if she wants the jobs, she hesitates, then the officer tells her that they will go with one of her colleagues. She says that the colleague doesn’t know how to translate a certain word and the army officer leaves, just to return at midnight with a chopper to her house to tell her she was right, the colleague didn’t know the word, and they will go with her.

I was a bit flabbergasted when I saw this scene. Now I would assume the army, in recruiting, would try to recruit a lot of linguists, not offer the job to one person exclusively. The way in which they would recruit would be a bit different as well, I guess. I got the idea that they really wanted to portray Banks as a ‘super’ smart and important woman and did it in the most cartoon like comedy style imaginable. It’s like the test audience here was a group of 12 year olds that gave too much feedback.

3 – Ian Donnelly

Once on her way to Montana, it turns out there is another professor on the chopper. This time a male physicist called Ian Donnelly who, of course, only talks numbers and whose single purpose seems to be making Banks look even more likable. In all honesty, Donnelly’s character seems to be of no use at all. I felt that the writers needed a sort of ‘opposite’ character to interact with Banks, so they cut Donnelly out of cardboard and put him in the movie.

4 – Contact

When establishing contact with the Aliens, the movie has a very slow pace. I think this is a good thing as the plot is more focused on thinking, analyzing, and discovering, than on action. However, after some slow paced scene’s suddenly the movie turns to action as some rogue soldiers plant a bomb in the alien spaceship. I found this not only completely unnecessary but useless to the plot. Worst part is that this whole bomb-action sequence serves no purpose at all. It seems that the writers needed some action scene in the movie just to break the slow pace and they put some random scene in that has no bearing on the plot.

5 – China in the movie

For some strange reason the movie focuses a lot on China. Superficially this seems to make sense, as China is now a major power on the global stage, but in the movie China seems to be run by morons that overreact to every move the aliens make, don’t double-check their results, and act haphazardly. In the end however, Louise Banks is able to contact the Chinese prime minister, and this is exactly what makes him change his mind completely.

6 – The general portrayal of the hero.

Louise Banks seems to be a hero that is pretty much perfect, all too perfect.

  • She is constantly portrayed as the only person capable of empathy;
  • she is portrayed as the smartest linguist in the country;
  • she is (for some reason) the only person that is able to talk to the aliens;
  • she is the only person that figures out the meaning of the aliens;
  • all her choices are good but people constantly work against her or doubt her;
  • she is the one person that can change China’s prime minister’s mind (yes, she speaks Chinese too);
  • she has no flaws, if she has any flaws they are eventually portrayed as good things;
  • she can teleport to other planets (no, I’m kidding here but they might as well have given her this power!)

Good plot, forced elements

Now, the feeling I got when I watched this movie was that a lot of elements were forced in, and that character had to make way for plot. The creators of this movie had a nice plot to work with and needed at all costs to:

  • make the hero a woman. And not only a woman, but a flawless, intelligent, empathetic one.
  • give the hero a direct adversary in the form of a rationalist male
  • put some sort of action scene in the movie
  • suck up to China by making it clear that by not cooperating with China we are all doomed.

Watch It?

Yes, the movie is watchable, but overrated. As said, the cinematography is very good and the plot is original. The characters however are very one-dimensional and the hero is too perfect.