A strong contribution to the well-established sub-genre of alien invasions, with a pleasant twist.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star in the immensely unique, high-concept sci-fi Arrival, in which linguist Dr Louise Banks (Adams) is recruited by the military to carry out the seemingly impossible task of decoding and communicating with alien life.
The unique take on a hugely explored sub-genre of alien invasion is a pleasant surprise when it seems as if it’s all been done before. The film centres around Dr Louise Banks, who has previously worked as a translator for the military. She is invited back to work by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) when 12 mysterious spacecrafts land in various locations around the world.
When you overlook the fact that no one actually involved in the tight military circle at the spacecraft site seems to be that shocked or even scared of the potential hostile alien presence, Arrival taps in to some highly distinctive concepts which make it something really quite special. Amy Adams’ first encounter with the alien species is really fantastic; her fear of being in such close proximity with the aliens is just palpable. The siren like noise of the aliens which resembles the deafening roar of the aliens in War of the Worlds is truly frightening and conjures up a real fear which sits right in the pit of your stomach. It’s a situation we could never comprehend yet one which is made to feel so real.
The concept of alien communication has been tackled in a number of different ways in the past. Spielberg uses musical notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact the extra-terrestrials use radio signals and prime numbers, while others simply use violence to deliver a message. Arrival explores something completely new in which voice and sounds are less important than written words and symbols. The alien language is highly intricate and a totally new idea, which is quite mesmerising to become acquainted with as we watch Dr Banks and science consultant partner Ian (Renner) work to decode the vague messages to prevent sceptics from deciding on an all-out attack.
As well as having an interesting premise, Arrival highlights the intricacy of language and we’re forced to take a step back from what is so familiar to us. Amy Adams delivers a solid performance, and while Jeremy Renner is serviceable, adds little to the overall impact. There is no standout chemistry between the two, yet the nature of their work is what keeps us hooked. When it seems as though we’ve been provided with the extent of the information available, director Dennis Villeneuve throws several curveballs to leave us utterly confused again. Frustrating though it seems, the end result is something really quite special, as all the pieces fall in to place and reveal to us that there is so much more to this story than what it seems.
Arrival does not question the juxtaposition between human and alien life to the extent which might make it slightly more exciting, yet the focus on language and how it is important it is to Dr Banks’ life is what becomes most significant, and what we must take away from the film. The broader message is certainly not what you would expect at first glance.
Arrival (2016), directed by Denis Villeneuve, was shown as part of the 2016 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the festival can be found here.