Arrival

They should have sent a linguist. They should have sent a linguist.


This is the story is about how movies suck, as told from the world that doesn't seem to know why.
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Reported on 18th of November, 2016

There is a saying, I say it, so technically it’s a saying, that the movie business is a bunch of people alternatively stabbing each other in the back and having sex, who wake up the next day to find that they’ve accidentally made a movie. Likewise, I document my life – largely composed of watching this incidental by-product in the theater – and accidentally review films. If I do the latter it’s because I’m doing the former. In the case of Arrival, I had to take a shit.

Arrival

10 November 2016 @ Vue Xtreme Westfield London


-$13.00 or, if one must be jejune, and one must... 
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

§  §  §

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See, I had just flown in from California to London the day before, November 8th. Some event had happened, who remembers what, and I was zonked. Wandering around the London-sized Westfield mall in London, I thought to myself: you’re tired. Take a nap. That’ll help with the jet lag. And yes, I had convinced myself that doing the worst thing possible would make it all better (see: some event that happened, previous).

Instead, my bowels called. I managed to restrain myself from describing my dumpout in great detail (that’s now, not then), and I found myself at 14:40, deciding instead to spend the £12.50 they charge you to watch Arrival in Vue Xtreme. The possibility that it would be nap-inducing did occur.

I missed the trailers, but had the misfortune of seeing the 90 second commercial for Vue Xtreme, an ad for the service we had just paid the extra £3 for. Close-ups of light reflecting of CGI waves, organized metal balls forming shapes, it made me miss the brevity of the THX robot. This was largely because by having a mascot, THX had given me something to fantasize about riddling with bullets.

Watching this boring I want to make an art movie reel, I was put in mind of insular worlds, of which the ad agency is certainly one. The bubbles and waves and colors are not aesthetically pleasing or compelling to an outsider, but they seem to satisfy the tribes that make them, reflecting, so to speak, the attempt at constant newness that has replaced any desire to make something, uh, I dunno, good.

Not unlike foley artists who can hear canned footsteps, or the directors who spend indecisive months digitally repainting a shadow red, then blue, then red again, the main target of the profession is forgotten. We, as audience members, do not care about this shit. We care about my shit. My shit was amazing.

And so, the insular world of Arrival, which is basically Bad Screenwriting: The Movie. This is not because it exemplifies bad writing, though it certainly does that. No it is because, in its insular way, the story itself is about how movies suck, as told from the world that doesn’t seem to know why.

Not unlike the significantly more fun (but just as moronic) Inferno, the reveal is revealed in the reveal. Based on a short story stupid, the film does manage to go a good ninety minutes without much happening. As within all one-act films, there is a necessity to prolong. Aliens land and then are deliberately kept offscreen. A linguist is – very slowly – hired to communicate with them, because no one else, no one, could have could up with the idea of using written language.

With no story to speak of, there are instead forced moments, like She Takes Off The Helmet, and She Can Only Write One Word On The Chalkboard Each Day. Thus the first hour and a half is spent mentally comparing it to considerably better movies, or rather, reevaluating pretty lousy movies as masterful. As Arrival variously recalls The Abyss, Close Encounters, and Contact (and redeemable bonus/embarrassment points if you got the Contact reference in the title of this piece), here is a phrase that one should never catch oneself saying:

‘Wow. Sphere was pretty good.’

At some point, Jake Busey, I mean another character that totally wasn’t Jake Busey’s one-dimensional ideological stand-in character from Contact does something and, again like Inferno, it is revealed that we are going to have a reveal. For Inferno, the reveal is so convolutedly inane, it is sheer pleasure. In the case of Arrival, we learn, most unfortunately, that the aliens’ language allows us to see time, and that the dead daughter flashbacks are in fact flash-forwards.

Leaving aside the painted ethical corner that having a child destined to suffer, no, I’m not going to leave it aside. There’s an reprehensible amount of solipsism on display here, that the parent’s experience is what matters, not the child’s, further how first contact is really just about human beings. Remember, to be the worst movie of the year, which this is, you have to have an evil message, poorly told.

Weirdly, however, this is not the evil message I’m talking about. No, that message is: create whatever impossible conflict in your script, then fix it with the concept of fate. The Chinese, being all military, are going to go to war. This is because war is bad and the military is all military-y. And that’s coming from someone who actually thinks that war is bad and the military is all military-y.

The ostensible reason for war is that the aliens said ‘Many will become one’. This is one of those classic movie lines that is supposed to have one meaning at first, then another later on when all is revealed. Problem is, and as vague as this phrase is, it doesn’t exactly invoke war. In order to have two meanings, you have to have more than one. The secret of this dual meanings thing is knowing how words work. Like a linguist.

So, to prevent war, Ms. Amy Adams calls xs.Tzi Ma and – screenwriters’ deepest fantasies fulfilled – remembers the future. Ms. Adams tells xs. Tzi his wife’s last words, I guess because having creepy alien powers would make him less inclined to kill aliens that that many into one line.

The following scene does take place in the movie; I added dialog because I cannot help myself, but the scene unfolds like so: there is a flash forward where world peace is all peace-y, and Ms. Adams is all successful because it’s all about her. She meets xs. Tzi at the UN. See, she knew all that stuff because she saw the future. Here is the future that she saw:

Tzi
You called me on my private number.
Adams
And, uh, what number was that?
Tzi
Rather than express confusion that you don’t know the number that you called, I’ll just use this as a reason to show you my phone. This is an extremely natural thing to do, since people show each other numbers on their phones all the time. Especially when I know that you called me on the same number, and just said that you know it ten seconds ago. There’s no way you would be traveling in time and use this information in what is now the past.
Adams
Well if that seems natural…
Tzi
You want me to tell you my wife’s last words. The words that you said to stop that whole war thingie. The words that you must know because I heard you say them. But you want me to repeat them. Word for word. Right now. After you already told them to me.
Adams
If you don’t mind…
Tzi
Sure. This seems like a very normal conversation that you would have in real life conversation.
Adams
What a normal conversation thing to say!
Tzi
You would know. You’re a linguist!
Adams
I thought of using written words with the aliens.
Tzi
Only a linguist could.

And then on to babies growing up to die with violins. It’s awful and hateful, with the addition of feeling generally adrift as to the current critical compass. Why such a large percentage of people would single out this movie and not the identical Inferno or the actually pretty decent The Accountant remains a mystery. It’s almost as if an insider group echoing their versions of reality could lead somewhere negative.

The Take

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Profits!
There’s a movie here about interpretation, so relevant now, that we see war where there is none to see. Unfortunately, it takes someone who knows how to write. Someone that doesn’t think that someone knows how to write is a linguist, but who does know what a linguist…am.
$1.00
In all honesty, the film is so straight up terrible, it caused a soul searching evaluation; the other overpraised movies of the year, like Dr. Strange and Moonlight, seem now like masterpieces. I mean, they’re no Deep Star Six
$1.00
Total Profits
$2.00
Losses!
In a strange turn of events, I have excoriated pretty much everything I wanted to in the article, except my sense of ragehappiness that I had seen the worst film of the year. Thanks bowels!
$15.00
Total Losses
$15.00

-$13.00

Thoughts on Arrival

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  1. Huzefa Jawadwala says:

    Hahahah ! Echoed my sentiments exactly, im tired of endless arguments with people who ‘absolutely loved’ the last reveal about the flash forwards with the child.

    I felt it was lazy writing and a altogether fake sense of urgency, unsurprisingly leading upto nothing in particular and a massively disappointing reveal.

    Thanks much

    1. Scott Scott says:

      You are most welcome good sir! It’s funny (maybe), that after a year the film has disappeared quietly. I think I would have liked it better (hated it less), if it was just supposed to be a stupid movie, and not some masterpiece that everyone seems to think all films have to aspire to these days.

      No. I couldn’t have hated it more.

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