This adaptation of Ted Chiang’s highly praised science-fiction novel ‘Story of Your Life’ is directed by David Villenueve, most recently known for his drug war thriller ‘Sicario’, stars Amy Adams again as his main character and adds Louise Banks as a linguistics professor whose job, upon the arrival of extra-terrestrial craft worldwide, is to learn to communicate with the aliens to find out why they came to Earth.
Adams’ portrayal of a character still getting to grips with the devastating human tragedy that the film opens with, is fantastic. Banks carries the weight of the events throughout, having to juggle her personal loss with the incredible responsibilities she acquires. The scene in which she dons a hazmat suit and boards the alien vessel with her linguistics partner Ian Donnelley (Jeremy Renner) for the first time is particularly memorable.
A far cry from his most notable role as a recurring Marvel hero, Renner plays the scientist also part of the team whose job is to learn as much as possible before the paranoid military declares war on the mysterious aliens.
Part of the joy watching the film comes from the atmosphere surrounding everything it seeks to explain. From the shape of the alien vessel to where they came from and why they have arrived, all is slowly revealed in a narrative structure not unlike that of Nolan’s ‘Memento’, in that the past, future, and present of the film is given to the audience in a non-linear fashion, leaving anyone trying to follow the plot guessing until the final revelations make everything clear.
‘Arrival’, somewhat surprisingly for a sci-fi, topically critiques a military focus on national security as an ‘arms race’ develops over which country can decipher the alien language quicker, with differing results leading to extreme action. This again lends legitimacy to the realistic feel the film strives for, solidly placing it in the realms of reality, rather than a science fiction leaning as far to the fiction side of things and as far from the science as possible.
Following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed ‘Interstellar’, ‘Arrival’ aims not to startle or excite in a traditional and typically bland Hollywood sense, but to start slowly and carefully, building a story that quietly intrigues, scares and excites.
Data taken from Rotten Tomatoes*
Even fans of the novel have little to fear, despite some glaring departures from the original story, Ted Chiang himself gives the film his blessing, having said: “I think it’s that rarest of the rare in that it’s both a good movie and a good adaptation… And when you consider the track record of adaptations of written science fiction, that’s almost literally a miracle.”
By Sam Cain