Arrival – Poignant on the spot instant sci-fi classic (4 trees)
by Richard Lieberman
Director Denis Villeneuve combines hard sci-fi and deep seeded emotion in one of the best sci-fi movies of the year. A thoughtful grown up piece of science fiction not the usual alien invasion doomsday setup that we have become familiar with.
Arrival’s premise begins with twelve mysterious alien space craft landing, or rather hovering over remote locations all over the globe. A linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks played by Amy Adams is struggling with the death of her teenaged daughter, trying find peace in her daily routine. Her path is interrupted when the twelve alien vessels appear on earth, and the U.S. military comes to her for her help. The military has made minimal contact with the aliens, but their language is unlike anything known to man. She partners with a theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.
Banks and Donnelly enter the alien ship and begin to painstakingly learn their language and teaching them ours. She is convinced the aliens are peaceful and with good intention, but with twelve ships around the world, other countries are having their own interactions with the aliens, and Banks is tasked with finding out why they are here. Arrival doesn’t cringe when it comes to taking on a serious discussion of linguistics, physics or math or the complex language the aliens use. It never leaves us lost at presenting complex and interesting concepts that usually end up on the cutting floor in Hollywood’s sci-fi universe.
Symmetrical, stunning compositions and an early scene where the two characters enter the alien ship for the first time remind us of the sci-fi classic 2001. Arrival though is not as sterile as 2001 and has an almost gritty character that plies us with a sense of reality. The movie makes its characters from our hero and heroine to the Chinese General seem alone and unable to effectively communicate with each other. That inability to communicate with others, not just aliens is a central theme that permeates the film.
Arrivals success is ambitious in its telling of a complex hard science fiction story through the emotionally compelling and heartbreaking story of its main character Amy Adams. Watching Adams struggle with attempting to decipher the alien’s language constantly driven by memories of her daughter is heart wrenching establishing empathy with the audience.
Adams character moves the film forward to a climax that is both satisfying and emotional, quietly triumphant and emotionally satisfying.
Playing time 1hr.58min. PG13