We’re all familiar with the scenario, right? Gigantic spaceships hover over the major cities of the world, and eventually disgorge battalions of vicious alien creatures, that are hell bent on world domination. Luckily, a group of plucky resistance fighters come together to kick alien butt and free the planet from tyranny…
Thankfully, Arrival really isn’t one of those films. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) chooses instead to depict an alien visitation as a positive, perhaps even fruitful occurrence. This is a sedate, almost hallucinatory film, that dares to try something different with a much mistreated genre.
Linguist, Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) finds her everyday life rudely interrupted by the unannounced arrival of twelve huge black ellipses hovering inexplicably in the air above different locations around the world. The ellipses (surely inspired by the paintings of Magritte) are silent and make no apparent attempts tocommunicate with the human race. Louise soon finds herself enlisted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who is leading a team of North American scientists, whose job it is to try and make contact with the aliens and work out what (if anything) they are trying to tell us. Louise finds some common ground with scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and the two of them set about the complex task of communicating with the inhabitants of one of the giant elipses. They are quickly dubbed heptopods and are giant octopus-like creatures, which (perhaps wisely) are only glimpsed through the haze that constantly surrounds them. As she starts to make progress, Louise is increasingly affected by images of her young daughter who comes to a tragic end…
I thought Arrival was a remarkable film, quietly persuasive in its approach and totally absorbing. The googly ball that it throws at its audience in its final stretch, hit me for six – I really didn’t see it coming – and it was only as the shock of the impact spread through me, that I began to appreciate just how skilfully the storyline’s tangled web has been put together. If the film’s ultimate message could be accused of being a little bit cheesy, it’s nonetheless a welcome relief from the usual crass Hollywood approach to alien visitations.
Worth further investigation.