As he prepares to deliver the sacred Blade Runner sequel, all eyes are on Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into sci-fi…
Following the announcement of the Blade Runner sequel, some fanboys were no doubt scrambling to look into the filmohraphy of its no-name, distinctively non-Ridley Scott director. This French-Canadian chap, Denis Villeneuve; who is he, and can he handle a sci-fi epic? Those who’d previously sampled his work likely weren’t too worried of course, while Sicario (one of the finest films of 2015) no doubt further quelled some of the lingering scepticism. Now, with the release of Arrival, it’s fair to say that Denis almost certainly has all things Deckard well and truly under control. Remaining doubters; read on.
Arrival’s premise is simple: twelve alien craft land on earth; the people of earth are suspicious, so a linguist (Amy Adams – who is thankfully far away from Lois Lane-mode), physicist (Jeremy Renner – who is thankfully far away from Marvel-mode), and US Army Colonel (Forest Whitaker – lad) are charged with the task of establishing their intentions before things get a bit too war-like.
Without giving to much away, it’s a ballsy choice for debut sci-fi flick on Villeneuve’s part. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, but, suffice it to say, though it emits vibes similar to Interstellar and Inception, it most certainly is not a high-octane thriller. Rather, it’s an intense, well-crafted, altogether satisfying piece of cinema, that conveys all the hallmarks of Villeneuve’s directorial style.
The script is tight for such a complex story, but it isn’t quite flawless; a few needless subplots creeping in here and there. What counters and ultimately wins the day, however, is the impressive nature of the thematic foreshadowing and eventual payoff; the fractured timeline of which Villeneuve exploits for our natural curiosity and overall entertainment with any number of smart devices and subtle shots. Director of Photography, Bradford Young, isn’t quite Roger Deakins (though, let’s be honest, hardly anyone comes close in that department), Villeneuve’s favoured man behind the camera, but his style suits Villeneuve’s vision here, ultimately creating a visual experience that is in no way overbearing – a crucial and often underappreciated aspect of quality sci-fi – and contains some wonderful sequences.
One Villeneuve favourite who does return is Jóhann Jóhannsson, the composer he collaborated with prior on Prisoners and Sicario. Once again, he producers a gripping, perfectly in-tune score that, like Young’s cinematography, enhances the dreamy, streamlined feel of proceedings. It doesn’t stay with you quite like his Oscar-nominated masterpiece that was the Sicario score, but it’s still well worth a listen in its own right. Of the performances, Adams is the standout, encouraging and enabling us to feel our way alongside Dr. Banks into a sometimes emotionally overwhelming, but oh-so-rewarding journey of blind communication, thru all-seeing understanding.
One of the year’s best films to date, Arrival is the epitome of the rise of understated quality cinema during 2016. See it.