Netflix Losing A Modern Sci-Fi Classic, See It Before It’s Gone

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

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Let’s face it: our’s is an era in which sci-fi films favor high-octane action and over-the-top spectacles. Not that we’re faulting either action or spectacles—but every once in a while, a movie thankfully comes along treading a different path, one combining high-concept, realistically rendered genre fare with human, philosophical themes. Arrival, which earned the adoration of audiences and critics alike, is such a movie.

November 30 Is The Last Day To Stream Arrival

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Unlike contemporaries, the film amounts to a thoughtful meditation on language, time, and connection—the latter between humans and nonhumans alike. The movie centers around Louise Banks, portrayed impeccably by Amy Adams, a linguist enlisted by the U.S. military to aid in communicating with extraterrestrial organisms recently landed on Earth. Twelve of their gargantuan, enigmatic spacecraft—dubbed “shells” by military types—tower over various locations across the globe. 

Amy Adams And Jeremy Renner Star In Arrival

As Arrival commences, Banks grapples with the tragic, traumatic loss of her daughter to a rare disease. Ian Donnelly (played commendably by Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, joins her and the U.S. government contracted team for the adventure, pitting his purely scientific approach against Banks’s more empathetic and intuitive methods. 

Most of the marvelous plot centers around Banks attempting to decode the aliens’s immensely complex language, comprised of intricate circular symbols. Interestingly, each symbol of the e.t. language communicates—or strives to communicate—entire sentences and thoughts, themselves reflecting the Heptapod’s (as the aliens are known) non-linear perception of time. 

Amy Adams’ Character Attempts To Decipher An Alien Message

amy adams arrival

As Arrival progresses, Banks journeys deeper into comprehending the seemingly incomprehensible language, beginning herself to experience vivid flashbacks to her daughter’s life—flashbacks seeming increasingly like clues.

Meanwhile, the military heightens its own threat, inching, then rushing, toward violently confronting the alien visitors, rather than engaging them linguistically. Tensions notably and memorably escalate when separate nations hosting the alien ships interpret the extraterrestrial language differently, projecting their fears and anxieties onto the unknown visitors and risking intergalactic war. 

Arrival Is Based On A Short Story By Ted Chiang

Like so many great sci-fi films, Arrival owes at least the origins of its plot to a piece of fiction, in this case, the acclaimed short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. A complex and impressive mix of linguistics and real-deal physics, Chiang’s narrative challenged screenwriter Eric Heisserer when it came to adapting the short story to a screenplay; Heisserer’s adaptation took ten years.

The fictional work’s intellectual nature and intricate structure constituted a unique problem to solve (not unlike Louise Banks’s challenge decoding the alien language), necessitating a delicate balance to preserve the high-minded essence of the story while ensuring cinematic engagement. 

Dune Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve Directed Arrival

Denis Villeneuve directed the movie, a filmmaker acclaimed for his nuanced and visually momentous sensibility, and perhaps it only takes a few minutes absorbing his signature aesthetic to realize he was behind Arrival.

The film testifies incredibly to his directorial prowess. Among other praise-worthy facets, the production required engendering a convincing duo of alien Heptapods and creating, in turn, their unique means of communication. Patrice Vermette handled the movie’s stunning production design, and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson contributed the score, both of which intertwine wonderfully toward a tense, enchanting atmosphere. 

Arrival Scored $200 Million At The Box Office

Released in 2016, the film evolved into a sleeper hit, earning over $200 million worldwide, against a much smaller (in Hollywood budgetary terms) $47 million budget. Arrival irrefutably embodies a film aiming, beyond weekend box office numbers, for a lingering place in the minders of viewers long after they’ve left the theatres. Indeed, audiences demonstrated with their dollars that the film’s nuanced approach to the genre comprised a refreshing departure from expected norms.

The Well Receieved Hit Continued To Be A Massive Success On Netflix Years After Release

Critics also responded with eager enthusiasm. They lauded the film’s innovative screenplay, its profound thematic depth, and, of course, Amy Adams’s phenomenal performance, one universally praised. Many consider it the finest of her career. The movie went on to receive eight (!) Academy Award nominations, among them Best Picture, ultimately claiming the award for Best Sound Editing.

Introspective, philosophical, and deeply humane, Arrival reaps continual critical esteem and prestige, enjoying an enduring legacy as a film redefining what sci-fi can be. For a cinematic thrill defying the narrow confines of its genre, inviting audiences to meditate on profound questions concerning life, communication, the Other, and time, stream Arrival today.