Movie Review - Arrival (2016)

"Movie review? Wait, I thought this blog is all about photography?"

Bro, don't forget the 'and what not' up there.

Anyway, in this post I will be making a movie review on this magnificent piece of art titled Arrival (2016). I know, it's already 2017 but I just had the chance to watch it so shush.

First of all, I am not someone that always go to the theater to check on new movies. I simply sit down in my room and browse around the internet to check on what movie is upcoming and take a quick glimpse on the synopsis. I only chose a very select few movie to watch, as I don't have much time to spare.

So, for this movie, the first thing that caught my attention was the alien theme. I'm a guy, and when I see science fiction movie I hit like.

But not so fast. I don't want to watch another off-the-mill cliche alien action movie so I checked on the synopsis. What, an alien movie that has a linguist as it's protagonist? Immediately I know this is going to be good. But then I went on to watch the trailer. It's a bit of a mixed bag. A bit of tense plus action here and there, then we get to see some destruction to some city.


I thought, whatever. Let's give it 2 hours of my precious lifespan.
And it was worth it.

Theatrical poster of the movie
So what was good about the movie?
  • Cinematography
  • Philosophical message
  • Powerful emotions shown by the actor/actress
  • Human's instinct of survival
  • Political conflict
  • Nado nado
As this blog is mainly about photography, let's discuss on the cinematography.
Take a look at the amazing color tone that they applied for each scene.

The usual blue/teal vs orange tone. Complimentary color really works wonder on images to make it pop. In this image you can see why the color tone works: It happens naturally during sunrise. And do we have anything more beautiful than a sunrise?

Another blue/teal vs orange tone. Notice how the director chose an orange hazmat suit instead of the usual white or blue. The shadows, especially the wall has a deep teal tinge to it, complimenting the orange hazmat suit. I also love this particular composition. Perfect example of rule of third.

When Dr. Banks had these visions about her daughter, the color tone changes drastically into a very deep orange/brown tone to further express the warmth and affection that she had towards her daughter. The color tone also works to tell the audience how the scene that they are seeing now is on a different timeline.

The lighting of the scene also focuses much on the subject, putting out the background to barely lit. This kind of lighting further adds focus to the subjects and the interaction between them.

Then there is a scene where Dr. Banks need to make a quick translation on a very important voice call of the China's General Shang. The sense of importance/emergency as well as tense was translated into a very deep blue/teal and green tone in the scene.

In the scene where Dr. Banks initially encountered the aliens, the color tone changed to a lot more grayish and dark as shown in the image above. De-saturated image conveys a lot of uncertainty and anxiety which works well in this scene. Also I love this little detail in the screenplay for the scene above which shows she clenches her fist on her first encounter with the alien which shows how terrified she was on that moment. This scene only lasts for about 0.5 seconds. Blink an eye and you'll miss it but it was there to really add the emotion into the scene.

Another image from the same scene.

Then there is this scene where Dr. Banks was lying beside here dying daughter. The great sad facial expression by Amy Adams was further complimented by the blue/teal and green color tone. Notice how the whole spectrum of shadows and highlights were filled with bluish tint.

The visual art was very impressive that it compliments well with the emotions of the character as well as the message that the movie is trying to convey.
About the story line, I really liked on how the writer got us to think on about the limitation that we have as a human in our communication capability. No matter how good our language is, we may never be able to convey nor comprehend each other 100%.
I may agree with Dr. Banks:

"Language is the foundation of a civilization."

Without language or a mean of communication, we may never be able to know nor understand each other. And not knowing is terrifying. Thus the aggression that we incite against something that we do not know and understand.

But miscommunication may also lead to destruction. There is this scene where the marines were listening to some live stream show on the net. The guy was blaming the government for ruining the country's healthcare and military, and is not doing anything about the alien invasion.
What was his source? Nothing credible but his own speculation.
What did his action leads to? Aggression by the marines to ignore the superior and put explosives in the pod.

These kind of toxic poison will always be present in our community as long as we do not understand each other. To understand is to truthfully communicate, not to assume.

Get the message?

On side note, I could not grasp on the writer's idea on how understanding the alien's language may awake that time-leap memory ability.


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Engineer by day, freelance photographer by other.
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