TLDR: I didn’t like it, I found it tedious and underwhelming.
I went to watch Arrival with the wife yesterday – several friends recommended it, and I went in really wanting to enjoy it. But I found it really bland. It was a weak remix of other movies – Contact, Memento, Interstellar…
Remixing itself isn’t a bad thing. But practically every single decision that was made was something that defaulted to the safe choice.
The “reveal montage” at the end was so formulaic that it didn’t feel like any sort of payoff. The music was so derivative of the typical Hans Zimmer tropes. The pace was annoyingly slow.
I’m looking at reviews now and it says things like “profoundly compassionate” – really? Why were the various countries so terrible at game theory? (Contrast with The Dark Knight, which did this right). “What’s remarkable about ‘Arrival” is its contemplative core” – I didn’t feel this way at all. It felt like there were several agonizingly long and slow scenes where the entire purpose was meant to try and force you to contemplate. “Press ‘F’ to pay respects”, basically.
The way the protagonist changes the mind of the Chinese general is incredibly silly.
When Renner’s character said “I’ve been looking at the stars, but the most remarkable thing”… it was so easy to cringe-guess that the followup “was seeing/meeting you”.
At the very start of the film, when you see a scene of the protagonist with a dying daughter, and you hear about aliens, I whispered to Sharan “the aliens are going to communicate with the protagonist through visions of her dead daughter”. Boom, right on schedule. And when you can predict that from the first couple of minutes of the movie, and it drags on for hours, it’s just painful to watch.
(Hannah’s name being a palindrome was also a really obvious choice. But I guess it’s kind of sweet.)
I suppose it’s semi-cool that the Sapir Whorf hypothesis got a name-drop in a movie – the idea that the language you use shapes the way that you think, and that there may be people or entities who use a different religion and perceive reality in a completely different way than we can. But I feel like if that was the central theme of the movie, it wasn’t given enough room to breathe.
Also, Louise and Ian didn’t have a lot of chemistry, the character development was bland (contrast with Jodie Foster and Matthew M. in Contact).
I’m scanning through what I’ve just written and I realize it comes across as a little snooty and elitist. For people who haven’t watched Contact or Memento, or The Prestige, yeah, Arrival might seem cool. I don’t want to shit on that. But I expected more.