After seeing "Arrival," the best compliment one could give the film is that they wish they wrote it.
The man who did write the film, Eric Heisserer, endured an uphill battle since 2010 to see his adaptation of Ted Chiang's resonate short story "Story of Your Life" on the big screen. With director Denis Villeneuve at his side, it was a trek occasionally fraught with vision-less development execs that finally ends Friday with the film's release. The types of notes the writer received about his grounded, sci-fi tale -- which centers on Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist forced to communicate with first-contact aliens that use non-linear language -- are the types of notes that could have undone all that critics seem to love.
"We did have a note that would come back on a regular basis to get rid of all the flashbacks," Heisserer said, "which -- if you've seen the movie -- is problematic." Other notes the writer received: "Does she have to be a linguistics expert?" and "you should have made the lead a male."
The writer was thankful that, despite these suggestions, his intents for the story mostly made it to the big screen intact, thanks to "making the film largely outside that process" as "Arrival" was packaged at Cannes with unique terms built into the acquisition.
"One of the terms was -- we don't have to take these notes. We'll listen to them, we'll certainly do our best to find a good common ground, but we want to preserve the whole reason why we made the film."
Some filmed scenes were unable to survive that preservation, including two centered on fleshing out key supporting characters: Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who oversees the U.S. operation at the alien landing site in Montana, and Banks' closest colleague, mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).
"To show you the kind of military leader Weber is, there was a moment where we saw him at the encampment, near the edge of the zone at the Montana site, where we saw it get more and more populated by average citizens coming to get a view of the ship," Heisserer revealed.
"And then, there was a panic -- and a mob mentality, which started to get unruly and scary and intense. Because you have thousands of people on the edge of this military blockade. And Weber, he visited the frontline and spoke to a sergeant there, the latter said: 'Look at this situation here. Look at how easily it could escalate. What I need here are 200 more men -- armed.' And Weber goes: 'If I do that, what message does that send? To them, and to our [alien] visitors?'
This scene would have added more pressure to Banks and Donnelly's efforts, which were already time-sensitive as China threatens military attack against the ship hovering near their country.
To alleviate some of that pressure -- just because the movie tackles serious subject matter, doesn't mean it lacks moments of levity -- there was a scene (ironically) cut that provided a laugh or two with math wiz Donnelly.
"We'd discover more about how much science he knew -- there was almost a flirtatious competition between Louise and him -- You'd see the progress she made with her language versus what he was making with his math. Listening to Jeremy Renner, in the barracks, at a cafe table, using a salt shaker to describing Bayes Theorem as it applied to global population was just a delight."
But the writer acknowledges that this scene "took away from the main journey" of the film's female lead, a journey we never would have had the privilege to watch if executives got their way.
"Arrival" opens in theaters Friday.
Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind. Read More