If one morning I were to step from my front door to go to work and a skyscraper-sized foreign object levitated with ease 30 feet above me personally I think I’d be really, really excited rather than scared crazy. Firstly, the fact I’m alive in that situation means the aliens (and yes, I’d immediately assume aliens) were friendly and not rampant extra-terrestrial terrorists pew-pewing laser beams and therefore likely less of a risk to my health than a McDonald’s breakfast. From there, then, I’d be even more joyous at the prospect of first contact, interspecies complex relations that are mutually beneficial, new technology..
Based on the 2000 Nebula Award winning Sci-Fi novella The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival, Directed by Québecois wonderboy Denis Villeneuve, is a clever multi-faceted look at how we, the humans of Earth, react to 12 stoic UFOs filled with things we neither recognise nor understand.
Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a professor of Linguistics in America who makes Robert Langdon’s understanding of semantics look elementary. Louise is quickly re-recruited by army man Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and teamed with Dr Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in order to eventually communicate the question “What is your purpose on Earth?” to their otherworldly guests and decipher the answer hidden in their deep, menacing rumblings and creepy clicking sound that constitute their “language”.
In a series of over 30 meetings Louise and Ian begin at the beginnings and treat the silent visitors, who’re behind a protective clear screen, like foreigners from planet Earth and attempt to learn to speak the lingo. Imagine trying to learn Dog. Someone must of tried it. If you’d only just met a dog for the first time it would be ignorant to assume dogs have no means of aural communication with one another but is it as silly to think the way they mark territory with their urine to be as complex a means of communication as our written word? I don’t know and when Louise has a squid-ink ring squirted onto the screen before her she has to use all her talents to derive all the meaning she can from it; who knows, maybe it just sneezed.
Benefiting from clearly exceedingly imaginative source material Villeneuve and CGI crew were able to bring loads of awe-inspiring imagery and set-pieces to an already gripping storyline. The giant eggish spaceships over lush fields had me thinking of rugby matches for the Gods, the perspective shifts with artificial gravity were gorgeous, certain scenes running through military tent tunnels looked straight out of Sicario. In my opinion some brutish writing surrounding certain countries response to foreign bodies in their airspace was a little lazy and reinforces stereotypes. Also, the whole “if we work together we can do anything!” side to international co-operation is a little stale as a plot driver; thankfully however there are more than enough “whoaaah” and “aaaaah I get it” moments that I won’t delve into here that keep it all fresh.
I’m always glad to see a new Villeneuve pop-up and I’m incredibly excited to see he’s at the helm of Blade Runner 2049; hopefully Arrival was just a warm up.