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‘Arrival’ DP Bradford Young on Making a Sci-Fi Film Grounded in Humanity

"Once we said this film was about flesh and bone, it's about the human beings in the foreground and our perspective on the aliens is [main character Louise's] perspective and our journey is determined by her—our journey as an audience, our journey as a filmmaker is determined by her—that sort of anchored everything."

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a sci-fi film about first contact with an alien species. The acclaimed movie eschews a typical “us vs. them” storyline to focus on an intimate human tale amidst extraordinary circumstances.

“Once we said this film was about flesh and bone, it’s about the human beings in the foreground and our perspective on the aliens is [main character Louise’s] perspective and our journey is determined by her—our journey as an audience, our journey as a filmmaker is determined by her—that sort of anchored everything and it really helped us make what Denis would call’ ‘dirty sci-fi’ or just a film that feels like a regular Tuesday morning when aliens show up,” cinematographer Bradford Young tells Collider. “Those things you can’t make up; there’s no way to show that feeling or create that feeling in the film unless you’re anchored in humanity and part of that is reminding us that human beings have agency and their own likeness. When you do that, that sort of really determined how the visual landscape of the film and how we moved that film forward visually. So the science fiction part of it was I think less about the aliens and more about creating mythology within the mundane, and that happened to be lead by aliens and spacecraft. This constant negotiation, this push and pull between the known and the unknown, the us and the other and those are classic science fiction tropes that you really can’t divorce yourself from. Those are the shackles of science fiction that you really kind of are willing to keep on. But the other stuff just didn’t really apply, like these aliens didn’t have two feet and arms, they didn’t have guns and blasters—that aspect of the film we didn’t really want to make. We’re trying to make something different, something slightly more grounded about humanity.”

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