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Movie Review

'Arrival' is an Obscurity with Impressive Special Effects

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The three reviews I have read about Arrival all seemed to be about the opening situation; they said that Amy Adams was recruited to establish communication with a group of outer-space aliens who had landed in various spots all over the world, and that her military boss was Forest Whitaker and a fellow scientist was Jeremy Renner, but they said almost nothing about anything beyond that starting situation.

But after seeing Arrival, I'm not all that puzzled; there is precious little plot, and there are a lot of elements that don't seem relevant.

There are so many shots of Adams asleep that I wondered how much was supposedly real and how much was some sort of internal action, even a dream. The whole backstory of her daughter's death didn't seem to be part of the story. After saying it was impossible for a mere linguist to learn a language that was not related to anything on earth, Adams adopted a method that seemed unlikely to achieve anything in less than a generation: Ask yourself, for instance, how the concept "home" could ever be explained by Adams' method of acting things out.

Toward the end, when the question of military action against the extraterrestrial intruders comes on, the plot, in terms of international relations, becomes almost too simple, but credibility is lost. All along, Arrival drops hints of a story but leaves too much up to us to fill in.

And there are technical problems that seem totally unnecessary. Darkness, which Hollywood often confuses with seriousness, is pervasive even in scientific laboratories, and some whispered dialogue is so quiet that even my theatre earphones couldn't pick it up.

I'm in a minority on Arrival, which is getting raves even from Rotten Tomatoes. But I can't see it as more than an obscurity with impressive special effects.