Last night with a friend I saw Denis Villeneuve’s new film Arrival. I am a huge fan of the story it is based on, Ted Chiang’s novella Story of your Life. I have very fond memories of reading it when it first came out in 1998, and I’ve reread it several times since then.
So I went into the movie theater with more than a little trepidation. After all, I have seen how the meaning of wonderful written works can be betrayed by Hollywood adaptations.
Think, for example, of what Hollywood has done to the work of Alan Moore. Zach Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen completely reversed the meaning of the work — turning what had been a thoughtful criticism of violence in popular culture into a celebration of it. Even worse, the Hollywood adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen just tossed out all of the wonderful ideas in the graphic novel, and the resulting film was just excruciatingly stupid and incoherent.
So I was delighted to find that Arrival was true to the original. Of course it was, in a literal sense, very different from the story, because film is a visual medium. But the deep sense of wonder, the intelligence and humanity of the central character and the poignancy of her psychological journey, the brilliant and exciting conceptual twist at the heart of the story, all made it to the screen intact.
Great science fiction stories so rarely turn into great science fiction movies. Which makes those rare occasions when it happens even more wonderful and satisfying.