Arrival (2016) Sci-Fi Movie Review

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It’s about time that a film emerged from the shadows which manages to relight the flame for the rather sparked out alien/UFO sci-fi genre. ARRIVAL (2016) brings us an entirely different format and a close encounter that will stick with the audience for years to come, if not for fear then for intrigue.

When we imagine a close encounter with beings from another planet, one of the first questions any of us would ask is, are they friendly? Are these visitors from outer-space here to make peace, or are they here to forge war against our species? In a lot of ways, this is the question that the film centers around, but the angle is different.

Most alien films tend to approach this in one of two ways. Either the aliens are definitely out to kill us, resulting in full-blown warfare (think the ALIEN series), or they are our friends and are here to take one or all of us on a magical journey (like E.T.).

But ARRIVAL doesn’t hit us with soft notions of friendship or hard notions of war. It explores the concept of communication. Can we understand the visitors enough to grasp their intentions? Will we patiently learn and grow, or will we drop bombs first and ask questions later?

In ARRIVAL, twelve mysterious spacecraft land around the planet. They contain ‘Heptapods’, large squid like creatures that seem to communicate by squirting ink out into strange and complex symbols. Expert linguist Louise Banks, played convincingly and naturally by Amy Adams, is called in by the military to decipher the symbols and learn the language. It just so happens the fate of humanity could depend on it!

Banks is joined by mathematician Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Ross, a rigorously scientific character who provides an interesting and often flirtatious dynamic as the pair get deeper into the linguistics of the alien language.

Without giving too much away, the complex symbols of communication used by the aliens eventually lead to a deeper understanding and knowledge of the way that they perceive the world, and more specifically time.

ARRIVAL is philosophical in its nature and tends to avoid unnecessary scenes of action. Director Denis Velleneuve does an excellent job of creating a modern sci-fi masterpiece, helped along by the screenwriting of Eric Heisserer. The film is a loose interpretation of the novel Story of Your Life.

The focus throughout ARRIVAL is often on the characters and their dialogues. The cinematography amplifies the feelings of strangeness or tension, creating an alien feel during scenes within the spacecraft. This makes the flashbacks feel sketchy, like hidden memories.

Though horror elements are minimal in the film, tension is built steadily and continuously with the use of cinematography, music and plot elements. The aliens themselves come across neutral for the most part, and are scary in the same way as Russian poker players, refined and unpredictable, rather than in a truly demonic sense. It is the unpredictability and miscommunications that keep the tension rising and the emotions flowing.

ARRIVAL has a generally high rating across IMDB and Rotten Tomato, but the film does suffer some mixed reviews. If you like your action, ARRIVAL may disappoint. It certainly isn’t an action film, and for some people the film may even come across a little slow moving. The discussions between characters and aliens is broken by flashbacks to Bank’s past, and this structure may bore those who want to see more killing.

Aside from very minor plot holes and unexplained moments, ARRIVAL holds up solidly as a story. It stretches the imagination, but solid acting and believable characters keep it grounded in some sense of reality. It plays with horror and tension, but it never quite lets the beast out of the cage. Rather, we are treated to metaphysical progression, as we come closer to understanding the language and the secrets that it contains.