I watched Arrival and was bored

Where’s Doctor Who when you need him?

Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

I really wanted to like Arrival. I like science fiction films and I had heard good things about this. The premise of a language problem seemed to suggest a new twist on alien encounters.


The film is long and, more importantly, it feels long. I think I even yawned. There are some very slow parts. It doesn’t help that some of the key expository moments are repeated, as if giving slower members of the audience a chance to catch up. The truth is, the repeated messages simply bulk out a flimsy story.

The story, in fact, would not look out of place in an episode of Doctor Who. If they added some humour. The only suggestion of humour in the film is in calling the two aliens with which our two protagonists communicate Abbott and Costello. Even this seems a little more insulting than funny, although whether to the aliens or Abbott and Costello is open to question.

The way to get onto the alien ship is very Doctor Who. The temporary military and scientific campsite base close but not too close to the alien ship is very Doctor Who. Even Forrest Whitaker’s summonsing of the Amy Adams character to the fray is straight out of the Brigadier enlisting the Doctor’s help in Doctor Who.

Only the lack of wise cracks and the presence of pretentiousness marks it as failing to meet the standard of a Doctor Who script.

None of the main characters are believable. Or interesting enough for you to care whether they’re believable. Amy Adams is a linguist with scary powers but poor social skills — even before she learns to talk Heptapod. And Jeremy Renner’s physicist is there for only two reasons, apparently. One; to reveal that 0.0833 recurring is equivalent to a twelfth. Two; for the purposes of insemination. Doing, not receiving.

Some of the notions of time in the film come straight out of Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians but, again, without the humour. And that’s where the film really falls down. I think when a film spends so much time looking up its own rear end, the audience needs to have some laugh out loud moments for distraction. Arrival seems to sell itself as somewhere between a documentary and a lecture on the nature of time. Maybe John McTaggart was a consulting editor. I know he’s been dead for over almost a century but he never believed time was real, anyway.

So, to sum up, that’s almost two hours of my life I won’t get back. Unless it’s still to happen.