When twelve alien ships arrive in the skies at locations around the world, language specialist Louise Banks (Adams) is contacted by the military and brought along with astro-physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) to the one above the skies in America, to figure out a way to communicate with the aliens. With the world on the brink of panic and Colonel Weber (Whitaker) pushing them to find out why the aliens are here, Louise and Ian must work to establish a dialect before governments around the world do something that may end in tragedy.
To discuss the plot of the movie any further would be to invite spoilers, and I’m going to avoid this because Arrival is that rare thing – a well written science-fiction cinematic movie. In the early moments of the movie it’s easy to see similarities with other genre movies, touching upon aspects of movies such as Sphere, with a group of experts in different fields being assembled, and Contact, where the effects of confirmation of life out in the universe begin to be shown on a world-wide scale.
The main focus on the movie though is from the perspective of Amy Adams’ character, in a much more personal way than you might expect with this type of movie, focusing on her interactions with Ian and with two of the aliens which are jokingly named Abbott and Costello. This is not a movie focused on the alien ships and blockbuster action, this is a drama set within the backdrop of the alien arrival, focusing more on human behaviour and reaction to such events, and thankfully the cast of Adams, Renner and Whitaker are more than perfect in their roles.
The pacing of the movie is intentionally slow to build tension from the start, with a mixture of beautiful cinematography and an incredibly unnerving musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson adding to the tension – a highlight being the first moment we see the characters entering into the ‘shell’ as it’s called. Equally slow paced and as thought out is the way that the plot progresses with regards to communication with the aliens. Many other movies have lazily had the aliens be already fluent in our languages after learning them from observation or some other means, but here there’s a level of intelligence in the writing as having to learn and figure out a way to communicate that raises the right kinds of questions about typical language.
Comprehension, understanding and such details as connotations and the meaning behind language, as well as the usage of words themselves, is touched upon in a way that has rarely been seen before, and this is a much more thought out idea of what would potentially happen should a first contact event occur. And yet the movie manages to walk the very fine line of not being too intelligent to either insult or lose the audience, and explaining to a degree without dumbing things down.
After Prisoners and Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve has established himself as a solid director, and while it doesn’t have an action element to it, Arrival is more closely in scope to something like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, with a level of intelligent plotting and attention to detail that is rare in blockbuster movies today, and that can only be considered a good thing.
4 out of 5 Nerds