Arrival

2017 movie viewings, #52. Okay, ready for the most controversial statement I'll make at Letterboxd this year? Here we go: Arrival is a schmaltzy, barely watchable piece of sentimental crap, and anyone who says they loved it is a worthless Lifetime-Channel-watching weepy moron who deserves to have their money taken away from them.

Or, well, okay, maybe it wasn't that bad; but Lord, it certainly wasn't good. The problem, I think, is that I went into this as a heavy science-fiction reader, enthused by how many people were calling this a "smart" sci-fi movie, and getting my hopes up over its Best Picture Oscar nomination. But let's be clear, Arrival is not "smart" science-fiction; it is in fact an emotional remake of E.T., a 35-year-old children's movie whose moral blacks and whites are painted so broadly that you can still make them out a hundred yards away while squinting. That's the thing, I think, that infuriated me so much about this movie, that I could literally predict every single beat of this obvious, badly written screenplay even by the half-hour mark, as surely as if I was peeking over the shoulder of some hack writer at a Starbucks in Los Angeles, pounding away on his MacBook and giggling, "It's gold, I tells ya! GOLD!!!" That wouldn't be such a terrible thing if I had been expecting it, and in that case I probably would've walked away from Arrival thinking that it wasn't too bad for a generic Hollywood genre thriller; but after hearing so many people gush about what a "smart" story it is, it left me foaming at the mouth in angry disappointment, with a burning desire to run around slapping Philip K. Dick novels into random people's hands and screaming in their faces, "THIS IS SMART SCIENCE-FICTION, YOU IDIOTS! THIS IS SMART SCIENCE-FICTION! WHEN WILL YOU FUCKING PHILISTINES FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT SMART SCIENCE-FICTION ACTUALLY IS!!! AAAAAARRRGGGHHH! AAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!"

I won't get into it much more, because I want to keep this review spoiler-free; but I'm certainly not ruining anything by telling you that this story hits every single trope ever invented of the "misunderstood space alien" archetype. Evil government dudes who see the worst in everything! Earnest scientists who believe in the most optimistic scenario! Gruff military leader who eventually becomes tolerant by act 3! Plaintive statements in broken English by our visiting E.T.s that can be interpreted in a variety of ways! ("Phone...home???") An artificially created raise in stakes in the form of a ticking doomsday clock, when some general from Enemy Nation Of The Moment suddenly decides he's just going to nuke those damn aliens! Oh, and don't forget the adorably precocious six-year-old daughter! You can't have a misunderstood space alien story without the adorably precocious six-year-old daughter!!! None of these things are "spoilers" because they're baked into our very DNA as modern movie-watchers; they are the exact tired, eye-rolling beats we now expect in every single Hollywood movie about space aliens who don't communicate well, and it was profoundly disappointing to see every single one of them pop up again in this so-called "smart" take on the subject that's been receiving so many accolades and so much praise. You all got suckered in by the impressive special effects and the artsy hipster pacing of it all; but if you really stop and look at what this movie is actually saying, it's no different than some Saturday afternoon throwaway SyFy Channel Original cheapie B-pic, sadly proving once again how easy it is to pass off atrocious writing in Hollywood as long as your movie is expensive and stylish enough. Destined to be my most disappointing movie-watching experience of 2017, do yourself a favor if you're a heavy reader of avant-garde science-fiction like me, and go into this expecting not much more than a particularly pretty version of Mac and Me.

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