- Boskone — Boston February 17th-19th
- Helsinki Worldcon Agust 9th - 13th
- Bubonicon August 25th-27th, Albuquerque, NM
I ended up seeing ARRIVAL and ROGUE ONE relatively close together. I liked both movies a lot, and have been mulling over the similarities and differences for the past month or more. I think I’m ready to take a stab at talking about them.
***********************************USUAL WARNING SPOILERS!!!!*******************
In many ways they have the same theme — courage and sacrifice are sometimes worth the pain. In one film the sacrifice is personal. In the other epic, but at their core that’s what they are both exploring.
There are also huge differences. Rogue One has giant action sequences, explosions, ships colliding, cities destroyed. In Arrival there is one action sequence which lasts all of two minutes if that. The tension is generated by the ticking clock, the sense of days, weeks passing, the stakes growing ever higher, but quietly which makes them seem all the more significant. Sometimes a whisper can be as powerful as a shout.
Both films have at their heart a woman. Both embrace loves that cannot last. Both act out of love of family — one for a father, the other for a child. Both embrace hope despite knowing that ultimately everything ends in death.
I’ve heard some quibbles that the explosion aboard the alien ship in Arrival came out of nowhere and felt like a studio note. I don’t agree. I thought it was set up well, but this was a movie that required enormous focus and concentration. Three times they go to the officer who ultimately sets the bomb aboard the ship. He talks with his wife. He watches an Alex Jones/Infowars type figure, he talks with his fellow soldiers. Ultimately he acts out of fear and with the only tools he has — violence and killing.
What can I find to critique in Arrival? Not much. Perhaps Jeremy Renner. I didn’t totally buy him as the brash, brilliant physicist. I thought Amy Adams was damn near perfect. It’s a brave actress who allows herself to be shown as older, rumpled, dressed in cargo pants and a tee shirt. Not since Ripley in Aliens have I seen it handled so well.
I have more quibbles with Rogue One — I wanted a bit more of Jen’s life before she was a criminal in a work gang. I thought they wasted Forest Whitaker. All of the companions were appealing though Baze Malbus got short changed. His gun seemed to get more attention then him. It also might have been interesting to have one of those characters be an alien rather then all humans.
I thought the references to the Force felt out of place and didn’t mesh with the first film where everyone viewed the Jedi as quaint figures and the Force as something silly.
I was fascinated with Vader’s choice of a home base. The world where he was maimed and lost the love of his life? He decides to build a palace and live there? Really? Wow that guy has some real psychological issues. And it was also an incongruous moment given the fact Vader seemed to be a lackey of Tarkin in A New Hope. Now he has a palace and a majordomo?
I thought the use of the Death Star twice undercut the point of the first film where it kills a planet. I also didn’t believe the Empire would blow up its base where they stored all their data. I was ultimately willing to buy the shield that could cover a planet, but I did have to swallow hard a couple of times.
The recreation of Peter Cushing was uncanny. My first viewing of the film was just a few days after we had lost Carrie Fisher so it was a very bittersweet moment to see our princess at the end.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more of villain in this film. He was interesting and more complex then most. I also would have wished for more from Mads Mikkelsen. He’s a wonderful actor.
There were also some very uncomfortable resonances to real life. The images of the stormtroopers moving through the crooked streets of the city with a tank grinding along in the midst of them, the exotic dress, the stone buildings brought to mind other images of occupying troops. One couldn’t help thinking about American troops patrolling ancient cities in the Middle East. And we were being asked to cheer and root for terrorists.
Which is the point where the two films diverge. One explicitly embraces violence as a tool for change. The other eschews violence, begs for patience, for communication, for understanding. Near the beginning of Rogue One Cassian kills an informant, a man who has been helping the resistance because he fears he’s become a liability. I still found Cassian yummy; he broods so well.
The aliens in Arrival tell us they are bringing us a weapon, and it turns out to be the gift of language. A new way to see the universe and ourselves in that vastness, and a new way to communicate. The impending war is averted with a message from a dying wife to her beloved husband.
What both of our heroines accept is loss and death. Jen knows that she and her companions are on a suicide mission. She eschews love and life for the greater good, and perhaps there is a sense of expiation of her and Cassian’s sins.
Amy knows that her daughter will die. That the man she loves will not accept that inevitable death and will leave her. Embracing love and motherhood is going to hurt, but she accepts the pain and the sacrifice so that she can truly live.
All in all a very good year for science fiction movies. I hope Arrival wins Best Picture though I know it won’t so may it win the Hugo and the Nebula. In a year without Arrival I would be cheering for Rogue One, but ultimately Arrival is the deeper more compassionate film.