Just been watching…(22)

Arrival (2016)

***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.

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40 thoughts on “Just been watching…(22)

  1. I enjoyed reading your excellent review, although I’m going against the grain by saying I was disappointed. The central premise of memory circularity is feeble, the special effects were mediocre (a concrete bunker?), the spindly aliens were silly, the romantic melodrama unhelpful to the narrative, and the America saves the planet propaganda downright annoying. On the other hand, it takes an innovative approach in foregrounding language as the bridge to extra-terrestial lifeforms.

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    1. I actually liked the aliens, and their ‘squid ink’ language. In fact, I thought how it dealt with language translation was innovative.
      Thanks for the comment, which I was pleased to receive.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m in Spain at the moment but I’ve also been very curious about it, although it hasn’t reached here yet. I’ve followed Adams’s career with interest and I have enjoyed her performances. I’m convinced we have an actress with staying power and room to grow in our midst. Looking forward to watching it. Thanks, Pete!

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  3. Fantastic review Pete!! It’s a shame more people don’t go to the cinema these days.

    I’m really glad this film seems to be living up to expectations and exceeding them too. I’m kind of envisioning that I’ll have a similar reaction to the one I did when I watched Interstellar – just something a bit special about it. Eek, I’ll have to wait and see! I love movies that touch on what else is ‘out there’.

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    1. I cannot claim to be a real cinema-goer, since moving to Norfolk. The screens in the multi-screen cinemas are too small, and I could hear the loud soundtrack of other films being shown coming through a lot of the time. Even with only six other people at a late afternoon showing, their moving around and crisp-munching got on my nerves. The light over the emergency exit was so bright, it was distracting, even more so once the house lights were lowered. This is only the second time I have been in four years! Just shows how much I wanted to see this film.
      There is a pretty good ‘Art House’ cinema in Norwich, but I can’t be doing with a forty-mile round trip by car, parking hassles, and traffic issues. At least Dereham is still cheap!
      (I love a good moan, me!)
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Pete, it devastated me. I absolutely loved it. No straightforward sci-fi, that’s for sure, and unlike anything I’ve seen (some small objections, tiny really – and I agree with it being too centered on Louise, but I didn’t mind, because I also happen to find Amy Adams one of the most compelling actresses working today). It is literally unmissable. Oh, and since it was my first Villeneuve ever, I am now more comfortable with the idea of him directing the Blade Runner sequel (which I am eagerly awaiting).

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        1. I didn’t really care that it was all about Adams, as she deserved the huge role. Her acting of expressions, and small nuances was a delight to watch. I have seen ‘Incendies’ which was unusual too, and quite compelling. ‘Prisoners’ is a more conventional thriller, but the dark atmosphere (and Paul Dano) made it very interesting. I have ‘Sicario’ on DVD, but have yet to watch it.
          As for a ‘Blade Runner’ sequel, I am waiting with trepidation. I love the original so much, I fear it might be impossible to follow, whoever directs.
          I have seen rave reviews for ‘Nocturnal Animals’, again mostly based on her performance. I think I will buy that on DVD.
          Thanks for letting me know your thoughts, Nandia.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds interesting, Pete – how refreshing to have a film that has you thinking, rather than the usual non- cerebral popcorn dross! I might consider it (but as you know, I’m a subtitle junkie!)

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  5. At least with your arrival, the film significantly increased its viewership. I’d already browsed online reviews, and had already watched a trailer, before catching your review here. As someone who has dabbled in language, I find the premise—establishing contact with an alien civilization through bridging the communication gap—quite intriguing. As much as I enjoy “Star Trek,” it’s difficult to believe that either humans or aliens would have universal translators that would facilitate first contact. I suppose an alien civilization that has studied our TV and radio broadcasts, or accessed the internet, would be able to decipher a Terran language—no equivalent of a Rosetta Stone being necessary. Anyway, this is a film that I’ll have to eventually purchase on DVD. Right now, though, I’m devoting my time to writing. Coincidentally, I have two stand-alone science fiction stories to write once my two detective novels have been completed.

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    1. I have a feeling that this film is right up your street, David. Perhaps you can borrow it from the library, when you have a break in your writing? The part of the film dealing with the complexities of communication was by far the most interesting take on it I have seen in a long time.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. We live just off the main through street on which the nearby library is located, so when you said that “this film is right up your street,” you were almost literally correct. I’ve always given high marks to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for its emphasis on communication, which, as you’ll recall, involved a computer interpreting musical sequences. I’ll be sure to let you know when I get an opportunity to catch this film. I appreciate your review!

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