jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
So, Arrival (the film, adapted from the Ted Chiang story). I didn't have a lot to say about it. Aliens, were great. Linguist, was great. Kind-of-sympathetic kind-of-antagonist military were a bit gratuitous, but generally good. But I did have thoughts about a few specific things.

And, yes, I'm annoyed it wasn't EVEN MORE like a Ted Chiang story than it was, but please do adapt as many Ted Chiang stories as you can. The tower-of-babel one would be amazing...

The writing system (Spoilers here on)

The alien language was different to the original story. In the story, it wasn't just *round* a circle, it filled a circle, each bit of a sentence tessellating adjacent bits in ways that could only be planned in advance. When I first read the article about constructing an actual writing system based on that for the film, I was fascinated, but disappointed it seemed to leave out the main point. But after actually watching the film, I realise it worked ok. It specifically talked about planning the sentence to fit the *circumference* of the circle. Which IMO is a weaker point: it's a lot easier to fudge the last few words of a sentence to a particular length, than alter every part of it.

But it DOES demonstrate the essential point that the writing needs to be planned all at once not constructed sequentially, which is the important thing.

And given the constraints of conveying that in a film, it's pretty amazing accomplishment.

The choice to have a child

A major criticism in an essay I read before I saw the film was changing "daughter dies in accident" to "daughter dies of incurable illness". That implicitly changes her decision from "know daughter will die, but don't warn her" in the story to "know daughter will die but choose to have daughter in the first place". And I'm torn, because the second does make a point of the difficulty of accepting predestination. But the first does so, much much more. The second choice, if you choose between "have daughter who dies young" and "don't have daughter at all", you might well decide her existing at all is better. But if you're choosing not to avert a preventable accident, there's no reason you would prefer to do that, except that accepting the future is unchangeable is the axiom that lets you see the future at all.

The time travel generally

I have an analogy. The first time you write a story about going to the moon, that's fascinating, even if what you actually find there is ridiculous or hokey or boring. But once you've already read scores of those stories, they're only interesting if they go to the moon and find something interesting there. Just GOING, by itself, while a cool idea, isn't particularly interesting to people who've already read stories about that.

Arrival is full of closed time loops. The aliens uplift humanity because humanity will help them in the future. (Or just because they know that's what they do.) Protagonist saves world by phoning general, and hence finds out general's personal phone number in order to save the world by phoning general. Etc.

Some ancient, precursor to the Oedipus myth must have BLOWN PEOPLE'S MINDS. Wait, there was a prophecy? And the prophecy itself made the prophecy come true? WOAH!

But there are already stories like that! Quite a lot of them. I get this "look at how clever we are" vibe from some of these loops. But they're actually really kind of arbitrary. Why don't the aliens just turn up and teach their language in a way that works? Because they know that's not what they're going to do. Why don't they tell protagonist how to avert the war? Because they know that's not what they're going to do. Why doesn't protagonist just know what she's going to tell the general by remembering that phonecall itself, with no need for an ancillary way of finding out the information? Because she knows that's not what she's going to do.

If the aliens just sent a radio message saying "Dear Earth. Tell general so-and-so something about his wife, also please don't start any wars. The secret of advanced technology is X" much of the film could have been avoided. Sure, the film as it happens is more interesting. But when the whole film is about closed time loops, why this one, rather than that one? Are ones which contain fewer "funny business" with time preferred? If there's two or more closed time loop pseudo-paradoxes, why aren't there MILLIONS? Somehow these loops only appear for important galactic-political events, even thought many of the people involved can see the future all the time? I realise they can't choose, they just go with the future they remember, but that just happens to have a small finite number of weird anomalies? There's never a small finite number.

Date: 2017-08-21 03:22 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (bridge)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
I liked it more than you did, and am more accepting of the ways they changed the story (even though I love the story).

I do agree that the accident is more interesting/ provocative than the illness, and I don't know why they made that change. On the other hand, I've never been convinced that the daughter would listen to a warning anyway.

Would Earth believe the aliens if they just sent that message? Doesn't the protagonist have to learn the language for her understanding to develop?
Edited Date: 2017-08-21 03:22 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-08-22 08:03 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
"If the aliens just sent a radio message"

They didn't have to. The aliens knew it would all be fine.

And yeah, closed time loops will happen all the time once the humans can see through time. But to them this won't be a problem.