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Film Review: Arrival

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We Can Understand Aliens Better Than We Can Each Other.

“Arrival” is, yet, another sci-fi film that flirts with the age-old concept of human contact with non-human intelligent life on Earth. “Arrival” stars Academy Award nominees Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on a novella by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” tells the tale of Louise Banks (Adams), a depressed linguistics professor, who becomes embroiled in a major world crisis when twelve U.F.O’s appear out of nowhere across the globe. Recruited by the US Army, Banks is asked to translate the alien’s immensely inaudible language by the impatient Colonel Weber (Whitaker) to provide an answer to two pressing questions: why did they come and what do they want?

The tension throughout the film is dense and thick, like a Mexican standoff, only this time it is between the soldiers and the scientists. Mainly because governments worldwide are on pins and needles, terrified of the aliens’ unknown intentions, and are looking for any reason to unleash hell upon the alien spacecraft. The scientists, on the other hand, want to actually discern whether the aliens have come in peace or not. The tension culminates when American troops grow tired of playing the bench and that is when things go from manageably bad to just bad. “Arrival” paints, and breathes life, into a fine portrait of a world ever so quick to rush to judgment and adopt extreme reactionary postures. It is almost as if Villeneuve is condemning humanity’s “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, which if he is, he should be applauded just for that alone.

While all three stars contributed fair, and equal, parts of believability, it is Adams who wins the day with her innocent Fox Mulder-like performance. Though the film itself is, at times, slow moving and guilty of more than a few moments of borderline boredom and theatre seat numbness. It is only because those scenes are when the science takes over via theoretical physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Renner). It still manages to never lose its “payoff” factor, that build-up to when your senses burst once you realize the big picture. That factor is very much alive, and well, it just takes a while for it to get there. However, given the enormity of the subject matter and the concept, I suppose it only makes sense that we reach that point with less speed since we are, after all, only human.

Visually, “Arrival” is an extraordinarily daunting film. An innocent sense of otherworldliness is felt, or easily attainable, when you sit through this film. It starts when Adams enters the “pod” for the first time, then heightens when the partially veiled visage of the ultimate foreign visitors is finally exposed. Though it is not until the echoes of the aliens, and the presentation of their communicative ability through organic symbolic shapes does the sense become full circle.

The way in which the film chose to depict the alien language is enough to make one appreciate the time, and effort, someone in some dark room somewhere put in to create such a language. And not only that, but make it as understandable to an audience with little to no knowledge of linguistics or symbolism, as possible. “Arrival,” unsurprisingly, is already rumored to be a serious contender for a multitude of Oscar nominations, especially in the Best Actress and technical categories.

We shall see if those rumors hold to be true come February of next year. In the meantime, if aliens, world panic, and a pretty redhead (or Jeremy Renner as a scientist for those of you that prefer that sort of thing) sound like hours not wasted to you, then “Arrival” should be your next movie stop. Just brush up on your linguistics before you do.

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