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Arrival

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Kam and I saw the movie Arrival on Sunday evening. It was as good as everyone's been saying.

I had seen only one comment about the movie from someone who hadn't read “Story of Your Life” and didn't know Ted, and that was a lukewarm one. And Kam hadn't read the story, so I was a little nervous that the movie might not work for her. But it turned out she loved it, probably even more than I did.

When Ted first announced that a movie was going to be made, I think I wasn't alone in thinking, That's great news, but how can they do a good job of it? The story is great, but it seems pretty unfilmable. But it turns out I also wasn't alone in being wrong about that. The movie is a remarkably good adaptation.

After I got home from the movie, I went and re-read the story; it's been years since I last read it. (Aside: one of my reactions to re-reading it was to be inspired again to edit an anthology, because the story appeared in Starlight 2, which also featured Raphael Carter's “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation” and Ellen Kushner's “The Death of the Duke.” Any one of those stories would've been worth the price of the book; all three of them in one book is kind of amazing.) It turns out that the movie is quite different from the story in several major respects; but at its heart, it's very true to the heart of the story, and it includes several very closely adapted scenes.

I feel like the story does a good job with both linguistics and physics, and I feel like most of the ways in which the movie departs from the story's approach in those areas are weaker in the movie. I had a variety of nitpicky issues with that stuff in the movie, and the story addresses or resolves or avoids bringing up almost all of those issues.

But the story is very internal, and doesn't have a lot of dramatic tension. It's focused heavily on character stuff and on the physics/linguistic/cultural ideas. That's not a bad thing at all, but I don't think it would work so well in a movie. So the movie needed to dramatize all that, and so it created a bunch of plot and a bunch of dramatic tension, but did so in a way that felt to me very much in keeping with the spirit of the story.

And there were at least three moments in the movie, maybe more, that were big surprises to me (in a good way); partly because it'd been so long since I read the story, partly just because the moviemakers did a good job with the ways they managed their revelations.

I could have wished for more women and people of color in the movie (though in the story, there are no explicit people of color at all); I could have wished for a slightly slower opening in the movie, because I was still focused on real-world stuff like popcorn at that point, and so didn't really engage emotionally with the very sad emotional stuff that the opening plunges the audience into; I could have done without certain bits of self-attention-calling filmmaking stuff (like one particular upside-down moment); but all of that is nitpicks. By about a third of the way through the movie, I was fully engaged, and I liked it quite a bit overall. Definitely recommended, very worth seeing.

The story, of course, also remains excellent and worth reading.

(Wrote this entry a couple days ago but neglected to post it.)

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