Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Since a Martian Heat Ray torched a delegation of Victorians under a flag of truce (The War Of The Worlds), the idea of first contact with an alien species has fascinated and terrified humankind. Since then we have seen occasionally more benevolent encounters. Be they the silver giant Gort (Day The Earth Stood Still), booming synth and disco lights (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), or aliens cosplaying as Jodie Foster’s dad (Contact). Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) draws open this rich well of science fiction for his latest film, Arrival.
When 12 alien ships arrive at various points around the globe, linguist Dr. Louise Banks is called in to attempt to establish first contact. However to work out what the aliens want Louise must first understand their language. As she starts to unravel their writing, she is haunted, both by dreams of the alien language and memories of her lost daughter. With suspicions of the aliens true intentions abounding it becomes questionable whether the various nations of Earth will wait for a translation before launching a pre-emptive strike.
By Grabthar’s Hammer, this is good.
Villeneuve approaches this subject with a degree of respectful solemnity, and in turn produces something that is serious and realistic in treatment. Arrival is heady science fiction fare, delving into a subject that has been around almost as long as the genre itself, and dealing with these matters with contemplative exploration. Based on the strong bones of Ted Chiang’s Nebula Award winning short story, Arrival delves into the details of what it means to attempt to understand and communicate with a truly alien culture. Here language is at the base, as a means to convey intent and to shape a world view. To say much more would do the film a disservice, as its strong plot delivers more than a few surprises as it goes. Suffice to say that this attempt is complicated by also being filtered through the lens of a distrustful and fractious world politics.
From the aged pitted surface of the alien ship, to the swarm of panicked activity in the military encampment, there is a believability here. Anchored by Amy Adams’ haunted performance, Arrival is a film of subtle details brought to vivid life. This throws you into the chaos of those events, and the panic such revelations bring. Script, visuals, music, effects and performances all perfectly combine to bring you something that is both ominous and wondrous in equal measure.
Thoughtful sci-fi, made stunningly real.