Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screeplay by Eric Heisserer adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.
If you are at all a science fiction or even general movie fan, then you know movies about aliens coming to Earth from worlds beyond. Stories about this are nothing new, going back to the turn of the 20th century with H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds which itself was merely expanding on what was already a popular plto theme. Movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Stil, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra Terrestial, Independence Day and Mars Attacks demonstrate the fear, hope and wonder that we feel when we consider what could happen when met with a superior intelligence coming to our little corner of the world and the trepidation we feel over what their intentions might be. Given mankind’s history of cultural invasion, war and genocide, our fears are certainly well founded that some other species may do to us what we have been so good at doing to each other.
Well, with Arrival you can forget everything you know, or think you know, about alien invasions and first contact because this one has them all beat. This is by far one of the most thought-provoking, intelligent and hyper-realistic films ever on the subject and it’s going to surprise you in ways I think you’d be hard pressed to anticipate unless you’ve already read the short story by Ted Chiang called Story of Your Life which it’s based on. I highly recommend that you avoid reading any reviews that give out spoilers because the surprises this movie presents are all worth every second of anticipation.
On that note, I’m not going to outline what happens in this movie or give you any spoilers because I really want you to see it, but that does make talking about this movie a little difficult. The plot is multi-layered and confronts tough issues and will have you up and down a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride without even being obvious about how it’s doing that. This is no heavy-handed Roland Emmerich disaster tale where the humans are good and the aliens are bad and let’s just go kick some ass. This is much more nuanced. The challenges presented in just trying to open up lines of communication with another sentient and ultra-intelligent race itself opens the door to all sorts of other problems, especially when there are 12 separate alien ships that have come down in seemingly random places on Earth and no one country or leader is in charge of interstellar relations.
A lot goes on in this film, both on a personal level with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and their characters’ struggle to learn to communicate effectively as well as planet-wide with our species struggling to deal with the knowledge that we aren’t alone and having to overcome our own gut-level terror at being obliterated in the same way we have ourselves obliterated each other over and over again. Would we come together as a species to figure out what is going on, or would our petty divisions and prejudices get in our way? Is it possible to overcome our primitive fears? Do we even deserve to have such an event happen or would we simply use it as yet another excuse to push ourselves towards self-destruction? This film deals with these issues head-on but here’s the genius of this movie – none of what I’m telling you is central to this movie’s actual theme. There is a whole other level of advanced science, philosophy and thought going on from the opening shot to the very end of this movie which I am not going to spoil but which I’m telling you will very likely touch you in a very deep place and leave you feeling amazed, delighted and a little overwhelmed.
Alright, now in terms of production values, the cinematography and special effects are quite stunning and I think Canadian director Denis Villeneuve really pulled off an amazing feat. These aliens really are…alien…in a way that is utterly believable and quite intimidating, exactly as I’m sure they would be in the real world. Villeneuve is the same man who made 2013’s psychological thriller Prisoners and 2015’s Sicario – movies I would not rate as highly as this one but that is more because of their plots than any flaws in their direction. Villeneuve has a way of getting into your head, challenging standard movie tropes and conventions and really making you think about what’s going on and the consequences and ramifcations of why. He’s quite effective at using music to set moods and evoke emotions, almost subliminally, and that was especially crucial for this movie. He’s currently working on Blade Runner 2049 and now that I’ve seen this, I’m much more secure in looking forward to what he has to offer because I think he could possibly pull off something even better than Ridley Scott’s first one. Believe me, for me that’s saying a lot because I know how groundbreaking that film was.
The acting is all first rate and Amy Adams in particular dominates by playing a very undominating but very effective and intelligent character who, you know, only has the fate of the planet resting on her shoulders. Louise Banks is a linguistics professor who really knows what she’s talking about and not once did I doubt how Adams was presenting this character or get distracted by her believability in the role. The circumstances in this film present extremely stressful and intense situations which, were this to really happen, I would honestly hope beyond hope that someone as resourceful, intelligent and determined as Louis Banks was there to get the job done.
I’m giving this movie a rating of Sheer Awesome, which it very much earns. As I said, this is no rock-em-sock-em shoot-em-up. This is intellectual fare but don’t let that throw you off because you don’t need a science or philosophy background to get to where this movie wants to take you. I can’t recommend enough that you see this movie. See it in the theater where it deserves to be seen, especially when it comes to scenes involving alien contact. Let me know what you think in the comments on this video. I’m very interested in what you have to say.
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