On Seeing “Arrival”

by Graham Edwards

Arrival PosterLast month, I finished my Cinefex article on Arrival, which you’ll be able to read in our upcoming December 2016 issue. As so often happens, I didn’t actually get to see the movie until this weekend, long after submitting my final draft. This happens a lot in this job, thanks to a complex dance of release dates, studio embargoes, and our magazine’s long lead time.

On top of that, as part of my research I’d also read the story on which Arrival is based – Ted Chiang’s rather marvellous Story of Your Life. So, by the time I found myself seated in my local multiplex waiting for the titles to roll, I knew an awful lot about the movie.

Sometimes it’s no fun knowing what’s coming next (believe me, when you’re interviewing for a Cinefex article you hear a lot of spoilers). In the case of Arrival, I was delighted to discover it didn’t spoil my enjoyment one bit.

The reason is simple, I think. Arrival is a class act. It’s that most delicate of creatures – a science fiction film that actually makes you think. The questions it raises are challenging, profound and moving, and yet somehow it manages to wrap them up neatly in an entirely accessible story about humans reacting to first contact with an alien species.

The movie looks gorgeous, by the way. Director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Bradford Young constantly manipulate the camera’s depth of field to keep intimacy and tension in constant balance, and find beauty in the overcast light of what would be just another damp and ordinary day, if not for the strange vessels found suddenly hanging over twelve locations around the world.

The ships themselves – not to mention their shadowy occupants – are iconic and enigmatic. The alien aspects of Arrival are adroitly handled by a team of visual effects facilities including Hybride Technologies, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Raynault FX, Framestore, MELS VFX and Fly Studio, all under the expert eye of visual effects supervisor Louis Morin. What’s more, Villeneuve allows the camera to linger on their work, giving folk like you and me ample opportunity to spot the imperfections. Except there are no imperfections. There is only a stark, alien beauty. The work is that good.

We don’t often review films here at Cinefex. It’s not the Cinefex way, you see. We treat every film as equal – it’s our job to tell you how it was done, not how it made us feel. Occasionally, however, something exceptional comes along.

Something like Arrival.

Have you seen Arrival yet? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments box.

5 thoughts on “On Seeing “Arrival”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Graham.

    Unlike so many of this year’s blockbusters, the visual effects in ARRIVAL were solely there to support and enhance the storytelling. And they did it discreetly and beautifully.

    I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s been a financial, as well as a critical, success. Hopefully this will embolden the studios to do more of these medium-budget SF films, which prioritise story over spectacle.


    • It’s certainly showing well after its warm reception on the festival circuit, Phil. And yes, it’s entirely appropriate that a movie based on a novella called “Story of Your Life” is primarily concerned with, well, story!

  2. “Arrival” is easily one of my top three films this year. Saw it last night and haven’t stopped thinking about it since then. A very moving and thought-provoking film, beautifully shot, haunting design, creepy score, and Amy Adams was a wonder — smart, witty, childlike and motherly-wise somehow all at the same time. I envy you, monsieur Edwards, for having covered this one 🙂 Until now, I’ve had mixed feelings about a “Blade Runner” sequel, but based on Villeneuve’s flair for grown-up and intelligent science fiction, with “Arrival,” I think we’ll be in good hands next year.

  3. I convinced my friend who doesn’t like sci-fi to see this beautiful movie with me. She loved how thought-provoking it is. She loved how the mother-daughter scenes were so intricate to the story. It was a fun challenge to keep up as the plot expands. Wonderful story that used the science of challenge and discovery beautifully and in a very Human way

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