Arrival is a film that takes a simple premise, and uses it to produce a thought-provoking, emotionally poignant science fiction film that couldn’t possibly be more relevant.
Across the world, 12 massive, black, ovular extraterrestrial spacecraft have appeared, inciting mass panic. Amy Adams plays as a university linguist seemingly suffering grief from the loss of her young daughter to leukaemia. She is soon (the film, thankfully does not spend any time twaddling) conscripted by the US Government to decipher the aliens’ language and work out why they are here. This task is complicated by the rabid distrust and fear spreading throughout the world and hampering uneasy international relations.
As the title suggests, Arrival walks a well-trodden scenario. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, even Independence Day. However, the film proves to have far more in it than aliens simply arriving, its story and screenplay ask numerous intriguing questions of the audience. Like all great cinematic works of science fiction, it will both amaze you and intrigue you enough to ask your own questions. This may seem like hyperbole, but all I ask is you go and see the film with little expectations.
The aliens themselves are rather marvellous to behold. To describe their appearance would be to spoil too much (part of the appeal is wondering what they look like), but they are incredibly intriguing to watch. They are an excellent riposte to the bland humanoid extra-terrestrials so abundant of the genre, and despite the films’ relatively restrained 47 million budget, convincingly realised.
The film makes use of a restrained but delicate musical score and the expertly orchestrated cinematography uses numerous cinéma vérité techniques, we scarcely leave the perspectives of the protagonist, and as a result the experience feels authentic, like a documentary. The most incredible cinematography comes early on, and it deserves to be seen on a big screen.
This film itself will not be for everyone, and it could not at any point be described as an adventure. The characters themselves are also, despite being played with exceptional acting talent (Adams in particular), thunderously forgettable. The austere colour scheme of the film, while clearly intended to induce a sense of realism, feels more like the cinematic equivalent of shabby-chic. Not to imply I feel the film would be better bathed in a rainbow of neon-colours, but a bit less blueish-grey would add a bit more flavour. These are however minor foibles in a film that almost feels as anomalous as the spaceships that form its plot, a science fiction film that will leave you thinking about it after you’ve left the cinema, and that you’ll want to talk about with friends.