The past few months have seen wave after wave of five star reviews for Arrival following its various festival screenings. All of them offering such high praise as ‘a sci-fi masterpiece’, ‘an instant classic’, ‘must-see’, ‘beautiful, ‘the thinking persons sci-fi’. The simple trailer does a wonderful job of layering up the mystery and tension, without giving too much away and I had pretty high expectations for this movie. At the very least I was hoping for something much, much better than this years other big alien invasion movie Independence Day: Resurgence!
Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life”. Anyone who has read my previous reviews of movies based on books will know that I don’t really read, and at some point soon I might just stop telling everyone about it too! But I do know that Chiang’s story largely took place in a military tent, thereby providing small scale emotional intimacy. Arrival the movie successfully manages to preserve this intimacy despite its huge and impressive scale.
As 12 large, pebble shaped alien craft arrive and begin hovering noiselessly over various points on the Earths surface, US Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) approaches linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) requesting her help to try and understand them. Are the visitors peaceful, or hostile? Why are they here? And is it even possible to communicate with them to find out? Louise is teamed with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to help open the channels of communication. Every 18 hours a hatch opens at the base of the craft and human visitors are allowed in. The humans arrive at a rectangular chamber in which there is a transparent wall. On the other side of this wall is a strange white mist through which the aliens appear, giving both sides a chance to attempt communication. The alien communication is in the form of whale like moans and the creation of black ink like symbols in the mist. Tough to decipher, but over many weeks they begin to build up a dictionary of words that they can use to form basic sentences.
Tensions begin to mount worldwide and some countries such as China become hostile towards the aliens. Time is running out, but Louise is beginning to connect with them.
Amy Adams is sensational, as always, playing the cool, calm, brainy scientist. Her character has some emotional baggage and she beautifully portrays the wonder and fear that any normal person would in such an extreme situation – a very grounded, brilliant performance. Jeremy Renner is exceptional too.
What could have so easily ended in a huge, explosive action packed climax actually turns out to be calm, beautiful, poignant, thought provoking and brilliant. Believe every good review you read – Independence Day this definitely is not!