© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Audrey Kupferberg: 'Arrival' And 'Hacksaw Ridge'

Two new films are playing in local theaters this month.  One is an innovative sci-fi feature called ARRIVAL starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.  Adams gets most of the screen time as Dr. Louise Banks, a brilliant university linguist, who is employed by the U.S. military to translate the language of aliens.  The story involves twelve alien spacecraft that land in a dozen locales across the earth.  The extraterrestrials, which are called Heptapods, are nothing like humans in their appearance, but they do seem to be capable of communication.  While they look absolutely primordial, they have powers that we on earth have not yet acquired.

Not all movie goers are sci-fi fans, but ARRIVAL has elements that make it a must-see for audiences that enjoy a good story.  Its main plot line emphasizes the possibility for a peaceful relationship between the countries of the world and the aliens.  But Russia thinks one way, and China thinks another.  The United States has its own approach, but cannot act without taking into account the nations which think differently.  Even within the U.S. government and military, policies towards interacting with the aliens differ.

In addition to this major story line, there is a subplot about non-linear time which takes ARRIVAL out of the ranks of the more common sci-fi film genre.  ARRIVAL is up there with such epics as GRAVITY, THE MATRIX, and ALIEN – not just because they are intelligent and complex fantasies, but because they show that the world of adventure can be a woman’s world as well as a man’s.  In ARRIVAL, the character that Amy Adams plays really is the human focus of the film.  She has the most camera time, is the only character with a back story of sorts, and is most impacted by the Heptapods. 

Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve has put together a terrific film with high production values, a film in which viewers are awestruck by the imagination and fantasy of the visuals, and also are impressed by the intelligence of the screenplay.

On the other hand, Mel Gibson’s fact-based drama HACKSAW RIDGE is lacking imagination and intelligence.  The true story of Desmond Doss – who was a genuine hero in World War II -- is a paint-by-numbers job.  Doss was the first man to win the Medal of Honor without carrying a gun.  He was a conscientious objector who insisted he could save lives as an unarmed medic, but somehow he wound up training in a combat unit.  The first half of the film probably will remind film fans of a hundred or more World War II combat films shot by the major studios during the 1940s and 50s.  A wholesome kid from the sticks trains with a group of dimwitted, mean-spirited men who ridicule him and beat him up for his differences.  Then comes the Battle of Okinawa.  They hit the battle field running, and the hick proves to be brave and true to his word.

The battle field scenes at Hacksaw Ridge are probably realistic.  I’ve never been to battle, so I cannot say.  But they go on and on relentlessly.  Hundreds of bodies with organs sprawled about on open bleeding chests, and hundreds of wounded whose arms and legs are hamburger meat.  Faces smashed to hell. The gore of battle goes on seemingly forever, which may be the case in war, but needs to be more measured in a mainstream feature film.  Gibson seems mesmerized by the carnage.

I regret seeing HACKSAW RIDGE.  I should have read articles on the bravery of Desmond Doss instead of sitting through this disappointing film.  

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content