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If You Want More Movies With Big Ideas Instead of Big Explosions, You Need to See Arrival

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If you’ve seen the commercials for Arrival, it’d be very easy to assume this big Hollywood scifi movie with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, crazy aliens, and big ships is an action movie. It’s not. It’s something else—something much more special.

“It’s not Interstellar. It’s not Armageddon. It’s an alien invasion movie without the battle,” one of the film’s producers, Shawn Levy, told io9. “We made this movie for a lot of reasons but it didn’t lead with its commercialism. We knew this is what it is and was always: A cerebral, poetic film.”


In Arrival, Amy Adams plays language expert Louise Banks; when several alien ships land on Earth, Banks is hired to try and communicate with them. This much of the plot is evident in the trailers, which are edited and packaged as to imply the only thing stopping an imminent alien invasion is Amy Adams’ character. The other humans all look like they’re about to grab their guns, just off-camera.

“We always knew there was this hooky concept and I’m not surprised, nor disappointed, that Paramount has leaned into the concept,” Levy said. “Because it’s authentic to the movie.”


There’s definitely more happening in Arrival than its trailers reveal, but it’s not lasers, spaceship dogfights, or things blowing up. Movie-goers looking for spectacle and violence will likely be disappointed to discover the film’s biggest action scene is Louise deconstructing a sentence. It contains only one explosion. But Levy also hopes people get over it when they finally see what the movie is—thoughtful, introspective, and unique.

As such, the producer believes Arrival, unlike most major studio releases, won’t live or die by its opening weekend. “It’ll open where it opens,” Levy said. “I don’t expect it to be gangbuster [or] blockbuster level. But hopefully we get a little bit of traction and then I do think the movie, and word of mouth, will do its work for us.”

Obviously, there will be some viewers disappointed that Amy Adams doesn’t gun down a bunch of alien guys herself. “It’s not going to be 13-year-olds telling their buddies, ‘Yo check out Arrival, that shit is so rad,’” Levy joked. “But it will be thoughtful, movie-loving, 18 to 80-year-olds telling their friends ‘You know what? This thing is special. This thing is not like anything I’ve seen in a long long time.’ That’s very much my hope.”

Whether or not that exact scenario plays out, it’s fascinating to hear a producer admit the film demands that viewers engage with it on a different level from what they’re used to, and then requires them to convince others to give it the same chance. Having seen the movie myself, I can tell you that it’s a legitimate science fiction masterpiece that will spawn tons of conversation, interpretations, and eye-opening rewatches. Here’s my full review.


Arrival opens Friday.