First contact - a situation humanity is well versed with thanks to the advent of sci-fi but little prepared with the reality. What will happen? How will we react? Most importantly, do they come in peace? Arrival deals with all the big questions and handles it with sincerity not seen since... well... ever.
Many first contact films focus on invading aliens. Blockbuster fodder such as Independence Day spring to mind, but there are countless, endless others. It's a rather cheesy affair and a wet dream of dollar-sign cashbacks for studio execs.
Elevating the genre was always going to be a challenge. Arrival breaks tradition thanks to one individual: Denis Villeneuve - here is a man willing to push himself. He has shifted genre religiously year after year, becoming Canada's answer to Christopher Nolan. As per his last feature Sicario (one of the best films of 2015, I'll add) the director focuses almost exclusively on realism. Arrival is a sci-fi, of course, imaginary beyond comprehension in some quarters, but the human interaction is what the plot hinges on.
Arrival sees 12 large UFOs land across the globe. Chaos ensues, and Louise Banks (Adams) is called upon by the military to converse with the beings inside the ships. With theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) for help, the pair attempt to crack the code before the world's collective xenophobic might takes hold.
First off, Amy Adams is heading for an Oscar in the lead role. She's a steady actor - technically gifted - but her emotional nuances are better than ever. On the whole, the cast is alarmingly composed. Their believability elevates Arrival; suddenly the bizarre circumstances seem extra poignant. The sense of dread and apprehension - accentuated by an astonishing, Zimmer-esque score by Johann Johannsson - before meeting the aliens is important. There's a weighted urgency to the human characters. You can argue it's the aliens causing this atmosphere, but the global implications seem far greater.
Limited special effects are more imposing and have far greater impact on the story. The aliens are freakishly bizarre but minimal, and strangely seem fitting. I could not be more happy - CGI would have ruined it all.
Sci-fi connoisseurs will love the new direction but perhaps lament the romance involved a la Interstellar. The lack of scientific explanation will come under some scrutiny, but that would miss the point of a very metaphorical and emotional film.
Film as a Film - 4 / Target Audience - 5 / General Audience - 4
Arrival is in cinemas now
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