Movie Review: Arrival (2016)


In the final installment of my miniseries of Space Exploration Movies of the 2010s, the aliens come and discover us!

Title: Arrival 
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Production Company: FilmNation Entertainment | Lava Bear Films | 21 Laps Entertainment
Summary/Review:

A dozen strange spacecraft arrive in various parts of the Earth.  One of them is in the United States in a remote part of Montana.  The US Army recruits Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a renowned professor of linguistics, to help them learn the aliens’ language so they can communicate.  With the help of physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Banks races to create some rudimentary form of communication the giant squid-like creatures before the more military-minded in the US and abroad take defensive action.

I like how this movie has a slow build.  We see the arrival of the alien ships from Banks’ perspective as it goes from a news story that interrupts her work day to something she’s personally involved in. The design of the ship and how the alien “heptapods” interact with the human scientists has brings a nice level of strangeness.  I’m sure actual linguists can poke lots of holes in how linguistics is used in the movie, but it works as a plot device for novices like me.

The basic premise of the film is one that goes back at least to The Day the Earth Stood Still, in that aliens are trying to help humanity from our own self-destruction.  Having recently watched Gravity and Interstellar, I also see a lot of common plot points, expressing our present-day concerns.  One weird overlap between Arrival and Gravity is that the lead woman character is grieving the death of a daughter (although that plays into a plot twist in Arrival).  The movie rests on a terrific performance by Amy Adams and the interesting direction and design of the spacecraft and aliens.  The rest of the cast doesn’t get to do much and various subplots are kind of “meh,” which keeps this from being a great film, but it’s still a pretty good one.

Rating: ***

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