Arrival is a 2016 science fiction film. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) and starring Amy Adams (The Master), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Forrest Whittaker (The Last King of Scotland). The film is adapted from the 1998 novella “Story of your life”.
The film follows linguistics expert Louise (Adams) who is sought out by Colonel Weber (Whittaker) after Aliens arrive on earth via several enormous “shells” dotted around the globe. She is enlisted to visit the shell which arrived in Montana, along with Physicist Ian (Renner), and attempt to decipher the Alien language, both spoken and written in cryptic symbols. However, all across the world, other nations are reacting to the alien crafts in different ways as China and Russia threaten to use more aggressive tactics. Under the immense stress of translating an unintelligible alien language, Louise also has to deal with harrowing flashbacks of her daughters short life, which may just provide the clues to achieving full comprehension of the Heptapod language and uniting Earth under a new peace.
From the start, it’s clear that Arrival is a thinking man’s alien invasion film and there will be no exploding landmarks or rampaging monsters. However, that’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of spectacle on show and Villeneuve’s proven track record on the arthouse circuit transfers surprisingly well to the bigger budget. Jaw dropping vistas feature the simplistic alien crafts hovering over the landscape, fog rolling over the hills or a gigantic shadow being cast over the ocean. The film is visually astounding and dripping in atmosphere, helped in no small part by the excellent sound engineering. The alien design, whilst nothing terribly original, is effective in directing the audiences attention towards the language of the creatures, frequently vocalised through massive bowel shaking groans and clicks.
The backbone of Arrival is it’s tone and allegorical messages. The Alien creatures are more imposing than scary and they have come to help us rather than annihilate us, despite the paranoia of the warmongering sections of humanity. It is a rare message indeed in the alien invasion genre and has never been more relevant than in the current times we live in, reflecting the aggressive posturing and xenophobia of many modern day nations. The tightrope act of trying to understand a race despite very little common ground, the potential for misinterpretation, the arrogance of mankind. These are all extremely topical themes to draw on and is an impressive adaptation when you consider the source material was written 18 years ago. What’s also really beautiful about the film is the micro crisis that Louise faces, woven into the larger doomsday plot. The flashback sequences which feature memories of her daughter are moving and poignant and form a beautiful emotional crescendo towards the end of the film when their true meanings are revealed.
Refreshingly thoughtful and beautifully crafted, Arrival is not your average alien film in the best possible way. Fitting in alongside other thought provoking, introspective sci fi gems like Blade Runner (1982), Contact (1997) or Monsters (2010) the themes and visuals will stay with you for days if not weeks. If this is Villeneve's audition for big budget, intellectual sci fi, then Blade runner 2049 is in very good hands.
**** 4 Stars
What did you think of Arrival? How does it rank among other alien invasion films?