by Cassie Ochoa
Heralded as a fantastic addition to the “thinking man’s sci-fi” genre, Arrival hits theaters on the edge of awards season. The trailer is tense, showcasing both, intellect in its plot and splendor in it’s cinematography. It’s hard not to hold your breathe as the trailer reaches it’s climax, but considering the talent involved, that’s no surprise. Director Denis Villeneuve has a fantastic track record of films that entrance their audiences and refuse to let go after the credits end.
Villeneuve’s films (Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario) are captivating, in terms of both, plot and cinematography. His stories explore the depths of human existence in extreme situations. He’s an immaculate craftsman of films that drag his characters through hell and back, leaving the audience breathless. So, it’s fitting that he’s scheduled to direct the Blade Runner sequel, but as Arrival is his first flirtation with the sci-fi scene, let’s examine another one of his notable films.
Based on the 2002 José Saramago novel, Enemy is about a professor named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his actor doppelgänger (also Jake Gyllenhaal). The plot has various twists, plenty of spiders, and an infamous ending that leaves audiences scrambling for more. Each time that the identical strangers are on screen, the audience can tell them apart without a hesitation. This clip from the film showcases the surrealist moment that Adam discovers that someone out there, with his face, is an actor. Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (Next Floor) does a fantastic job with the interplay of the film-within-a-film and it’s role as a dream sequence. The minute it starts, the audience feels it’s not quite of this world and time. What’s awesome is Villeneuve gives this a completely different feel than any other segment of the film, keeping it’s retro feeling isolated away from the neutral color palette and the utterly yellow drenched feeling of the other nightmares.
Bradford Young’s work is bathed in gorgeous natural light. Under his watchful eye, each film exudes a storybook poignance, a dreamesque and fluid world even in the most tragic of circumstances. He’s an unusual choice for Villeneuve, however based on the initial look at Arrival and the utterly awe-inspiring visuals of the alien’s landing on earth, it might be the first true cinematography homage to the vintage posters that would advertise space travel. Young does a fantastic job with character pieces, as all three of his most prominent films (Ain’t The Bodies Saints, A Most Violent Year, Mother of George) are essentially an examination of a character, and Arrival looks to be a similar type of story.
Let’s examine one of Young’s most recent films. Pawn Sacrifice was not a phenomenal biopic, but the cinematography did something that not many other films have succeeded with; it treated chess like an actual sport. This clip from the film showcases one of the matches, switching perspectives to build tension in the audience. The match isn’t just a world championship, it’s a battle between dueling countries. Then, Bobby Fischer leaves the table and all bets are off. The paranoia he feels starts slipping through the cracks. Every change in Fischer’s mental state is photographed dynamically, building both, an inner tension in Fischer and an outer tension with the match, balancing both beautifully. Other scenes showcase Fischer’s mental deterioration and other chess games, but the first match between Spassky and Fischer is a cinematic gem.
When Arrival hits theaters, it will definitely stand out amongst the rest of the autumn fare. With it’s gorgeous cinematography evident in its trailer, the one aspect that will set it apart is the story. Based on the literary short, Story of Your Life, it’s adapted by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, the remakes of The Thing and Nightmare on Elm Street). And with Villeneuve at the helm and a powerful cast, Arrival looks to be an artistic slant on a genre that is dominated by slightly more commercial fare.