Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stulbarg
Synopsis: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Brief strong language)
Release Date: November 11, 2016
There have been hundreds of films released that feature aliens. From classic horror films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel, 1956) and Alien (Scott, 1979) to disaster films such as Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996) to comedies such as Men in Black (Sonnenfeld, 1997). The genre has become extremely saturated in recent years, and few films have been able to stand out from the crowd in terms of unique and original storytelling.
Enter Denis Villeneuve's new sci-fi film, Arrival. The film has a simple enough premise that seems to copy Independence Day's plot right off the bat: multiple alien ships arrive over various countries on earth and the government tries to discern the identity of the aliens and what their intentions are. However, filmgoers will soon find out that this is a different kind of alien story.
Before taking any violent action, the government calls in expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try to communicate with the aliens and retrieve answers. The difference is, that assignment takes the entirety of the film.
Now don't write off the film just yet.
Arrival has an undeniably slow-paced plot. There are no physical battle scenes. Instead, the battle is fought internally in the mind of Louise Banks as she tries to decipher the language of the aliens and uncover answers. Though in writing this may seem rather dull and tedious, the film excels due to this very creative choice. Indeed, the beauty of Arrival is its subversion of the alien-invasion genre.
One of the most intriguing scenes in the film is when Banks and a few other government officials enter the alien "shell" (one that landed over Montana) for the first time. The entire sequence screams Alien (Scott, 1979) in its depiction of unsuspecting humans entering and exploring an unknown, but fascinating alien ship looking for answers. The film only shows the aliens in full, unobstructed form a few times in the entire film, and even those shots are quick-cut. Nevertheless, the intrigue remains and actually is kept alive by the decision to not show too much of the aliens.
The film sports a near two-hour running time. And yet, despite the slow pacing of the plot, I was never bored, looking at my watch, or wanting to fast forward to the end. The film retains a sense of wonder to the final scene, and contains thoroughly engrossing material that touches on philosophical themes reminiscent of works by Stanley Kubrick and Philip K. Dick. It also forces audiences to ponder difficult questions and leaves them questioning themselves as the credits roll.
Arrival is one of the most refreshing alien films to be released in recent years, subverting the genre by containing thoroughly compelling material while also delivering an entertaining experience without having to display copious amounts of physical action. It's simultaneously intimate and emotionally resonant from Amy Adams's strong performance as Louise Banks and vast in its exploration of deep philosophical questions that will force viewers to ask themselves, "What would I do?”. Arrival is a sci-fi film that should be remembered years down the road amidst the many more alien invasion films to come.