***No real spoilers. It is not that sort of film.***
I have rarely seen such positive reviews for a new film. From critics to bloggers, this new sci-fi offering seemed to tick every box, and left me intrigued. Not one bad review? Well no. How unusual is that? I avoided spoilers, but read some overviews, and decided that it might be unusual enough to warrant me venturing out to the cinema, to catch this film when it was still ‘fresh’.
It was showing at my local cinema in Dereham. Not the most inviting venue, but nice and close to home. A wet and bleak November afternoon is perhaps the best time for such an expedition. Traffic was light, and parking was easy. At the box-office (if you can call it that) I was a little disappointed to see it showing in Screen 2. This meant that it had lost out on the bigger screen to the Marvel franchise film, ‘Doctor Strange’. Still, my ‘Pensioner Concession’ ticket was good value at £5.99, saving me a whole £1.01 on the regular price. Entering the auditorium, I was not at all surprised to find only two other patrons sitting in the 180-seater cinema. After sitting through the piped music before the 16.25 showing began, I watched the advertisements and coming attractions, noting that four more people had arrived. This made a total audience of seven, which led me to wonder how this regional cinema keeps going.
‘Arrival’ is a science fiction film, directed by Dennis Villeneuve, and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forrest Whittaker. I went expecting something like a melange of ‘Close Encounters’ meets ‘Contact’. Given the rave reviews, I was hoping for more, and I got it.
Twelve alien spaceships descend on earth, placing themselves around the planet, but showing no aggression to the inhabitants. On the contrary, they allow scientists to access their unusual ships, for a given period each day. And they try to communicate, with a strange language of sounds, and initially indecipherable writing. Adams plays the linguistics expert, called upon to help understand what these aliens want. Along with physicist Ian (Renner) she is taken to the ship that is hovering over Montana, in the USA.
As a part of a dedicated team, she is allowed contact with the aliens, separated by a strange wall of their making. The whole world is worried about the intentions of this alien race. In China and Russia, they are intending to attack the ships, in the hope of driving them away. But communication is made to some degree, with different methods used in each country. Adams’ character uses written communication, and the Chinese use pictorial methods, including MahJong tiles. Ian (Renner) is on hand to plot the physics involved, and the military, in the form of Whittaker, worries constantly about being invaded and overwhelmed.
What happens next is nothing like you might expect, and this is where the film exceeds expectations. Forget ‘Close Encounters’, ‘Contact’, or even ‘Independence Day’. For this is a film that requires something unusual from the viewer, and that something is thought. The aliens are thoughtful creatures, with no ill-intent, and the deciphering of their language opens up avenues regarding the whole concept of time and space that necessitate some serious contemplation. It soon becomes apparent that Louise (Adams) is the catalyst not only for understanding what they want, but the key to the whole story.
The ending is far from pat and cosy. There are no heroic fire-fights, no firm conclusions, and we are left turning in a circle of realisation. The film is all the better for that, and makes it one of the best sci-fi offerings for a very long time. If I had any negatives, they would be that the film is all about Louise. (Adams) That said, she holds it together brilliantly, with a superb performance in what is really the only watchable role. The aliens are nothing we haven’t seen before, but they are well-rendered, and even believable after a while. The others in the cast are competent enough, but could honestly be played by anyone, as they are virtually superfluous. It is all about Adams, and the aliens she encounters, as well as the reflections on her former (and future?) life.
If you like science fiction, and you enjoy working out puzzles, and having to think a bit, then this one is for you. And another plus. The soundtrack, sound effects, special effects, (when used) and the alien speech, are all second to none. Worth a night at the cinema, I have to say. Here’s a trailer.