Something that just came across my radar is the trailer for a new film titled “Arrival” which was released last Tuesday by Paramount Pictures. Obviously trailers are only a contorted glimpse of the final film, and marketing teams have been known to botch how a film is presented in its trailers before (eg, the “Lady in the Water” trailer making the film out to be a horror movie, when it was, in fact, a fairy tale.) So with that in mind, I’m super stoked about the trailer for “Arrival” even if the film turns out to be different.
First, if you haven’t seen it, check it out now:
As you can see, this is not an action-packed “Independence Day” style alien invasion movie. Nor is it slow thriller like “ALIEN”. Actually, if we want to compare it to a previous film, I’d like to conjure to your mind for comparison “The Abyss” or, possibly, “Contact”. We’re looking at a film that’s more cerebral, with a female lead character (Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams) whose core strength is her intelligence and intuition. What’s particularly nice is how the nerdy, super-smart Dr. Banks doesn’t seem to have the stereotypical offsets of being clumsy or inept regarding human behavior. She’s clearly more than a book-smart PHD, and she is willing and able to do what needs done. I mean, when Indiana Jones was told that they had “top men working on it,” they were talking about people like her!
Of course, I’m drawing all these conclusions from the trailer, which could be misleading, right? So why am I getting so worked up about something?
Let’s presume the movie is being totally misrepresented. Maybe “Arrival” really is a cheap, no-brain alien invasion movie a-la “Mars Attacks.” The good news is that the marketing team at Paramount Pictures wants to appeal to smart, capable people. They’ve successfully identified a target audience like the Dr. Banks I described above, and have crafted a well-done trailer meant to appeal to people like her.
We can take that further. Let’s suppose my summation of the film is accurate. That means a lot of other important, powerful people in the film industry got behind this project and made it happen. It’s something we’re slowly starting to see more of, and I hope it’s a trend that continues. Projects like “The Martian” certainly help, and maybe “Arrival” will help lend momentum to this trend of making intelligent films that don’t rely on explosions and lens flares. There have certainly been some near-misses, with films like “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” both of which were good films but really struggled with the concept of scientific accuracy. “Arrival” may very well face similar issues, and the Trivia page for “Arrival” on IMDB has this hope-instilling quote:
Director Denis Villeneuve and the writing team took extensive efforts to ensure the movie’s scientific ideology was accurate. Renown scientist and tech innovator Stephen Wolfram and his son Christopher Wolfram were consulted on to ensure all terminology, graphics, and depictions were sound.
Now, Stephen and his son Christopher are definitely top-notch scientists, but I can’t help but note that they both focus on computer science, physics, and math. So I’m a little trepidatious about their involvement in a story that centers on linguistics, a little bit because it doesn’t sound like they were involved in the linguistics side of the story. So who was? Well, the original author!
For those of you who may be just discovering all this, “Arrival” is a movie adaptation of a short story by Ted Chiang titled “Story of Your Life.” From his Wikipedia page:
Talk about some relevant credentials! While Chiang might not be a linguist by trade (his education was in Computer Science) we can safely assume that he’s a science fiction writer who takes his science seriously and does his research. Because let’s face it, linguistics is not something you can get good results with unless you know a few things. (To digress, I became interested in linguistics back in 1995 when I discovered the video games MYST and later Riven. They helped spark the love of constructed languages in me. I went on to learn various alphabets, study Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Tolkien’s Elvish & Dwarven, and dig a bit into the bizarre world of language philosophy with the works of Benjamin Lee Whorf. I… might be a bit biased in my justification for excitement over a movie with a linguistics-focused protagonist.) It’s possible that there’s going to be some major divergence in the film from Chiang’s short story, which is typical, but we can hope that with an original concept as given by Chiang’s work, Paramount Pictures will hopefully deliver something entertaining, profitable, and containing not just the spirit of Chiang’s work, but the scientific heart as well. Then maybe, hopefully, the trend will grow.
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