peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2016 12 20 Arrival

Arrival

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The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can - even if it's only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse - or the man who always came to save America at the last moment - someone always came to save America at the last moment - especially in "B" movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at - like a "B" movie.
Gil Scott-Heron, B-Movie, about better days than these.

The Ritz, $10 cheap Tuesday, 2.40pm session, theatre 6 was chockers: a row of giggling, chatting young ladies showed up late and sat in front of me, and this movie wasn't good enough to shut them up.

I'd seen the short enough times to expect a nice sci-fi premise and some exploration of what it means to be a single white female linguist romancing aliens in the twenty-first century. I was hoping they'd avoid lurv as powerful as that in Interstellar, and tiresome deus ex solutions to humanity's problems. Unfortunately we get a completely implausible plot, and active misdirection of the Sixth Sense kind. The science is of the Portal genre, but here there's no Cave Johnson (J. K. Simmons) to remind us why we're doing it. China is now the militaristic inscrutable whipping/bad boy of geopolitics. That's a bit tiresome, as is the panicky greater American public's demand for violence against the mostly-passive aliens. Forest Whitaker is OK, Amy Adams is OK, Jeremy Renner is OK but he doesn't get to do any science; she's a bit of a hog that way. The earnest sincerity is unflagging.

The central plot hole is bleedingly obvious: the aliens have all this awesome technology, and their purpose is to share their mad language skillz with people, but they do not come prepared to explain themselves: it's entirely up to the humans to figure it all out! Remind me to try that in my next job interview. And why don't the humans datamine the hell out of those sounds and circles? Come on guys, it's the twenty-first century: stick it on Kaggle already! And while I'm sure the type theorists are soaked to think that language is the key to time travel, the benefit of this device accrues purely to the scriptwriters, who use it to lazily resolve all plot points except how we're supposed to aid the aliens in 3000 years. If I was an alien who had just seen this movie, I'd be looking for sapient helpers somewhere else quick smart.

Manohla Dargis indulged this tosh. She points to Ted Chiang's original material, which I guess I won't be in a hurry to read now.