Arrival (2016) – An Engaging Alien Sci-fi





We aren’t new to Science fiction with aliens. In fact as movie buffs we’ve come across a number of alien invasion movies. Personally The Day the Earth stood still (1951) lingers in my memory. That’s perhaps the first ever hugely popular film featuring alien invasion. Of all these films featuring extra terrestrials, we’ve only seen unfriendly aliens arrive the earth with an intention of exterminating the human species and claim the planet. The exceptions to this common plot are scarcely any. (‘District 9’ comes to my mind.) In my viewing experience E.T and District 9 spoke the emotional connections that the human characters make with the alien species and the whole drama revolves around their relationship.

Most of the alien invasion movies are action adventure flicks oozing with an overdosed CGI extravaganza. And the lead characters in such films remain only clichés. Usually in an alien flick one might expect an army general, a scientist (who knows the specified field – in yesteryear flicks) , a team of experts ( don’t ask their field of expertise). Well that was perhaps before 2000. Hollywood updated itself (only in) tagging the characters more specifically in the later movies. Now one might expect an Astrobiologist, an Astrophysicist and what not, you name them. But a linguist (!?).  Even knowing about the plot, this had undoubtedly put ‘Arrival’ in my must see wish list.



Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is adapted from a short story ‘Story of your Life’ by Ted Chiang. Putting a linguist at the pivotal role this film reinvents the genre. Of all the primary problems we might encounter if we meet extra terrestrial species, finding a proper mode to communicate with them tops the chart, provided they are patient enough or prefer listening to us. So far this plot remained untapped and Arrival grabs it with style. This stays as a Sci-fi drama film from start to finish.

The entire film revolves around an extremely talented linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is sort by the military for translation purposes. Their intention is to know the purpose of the aliens’ visit. The film opens with a short emotional sequence with Louise and her ailing daughter. Shortly after, we are announced about the arrival of alien spaceships at twelve different locations on earth.  These gigantic, opaque Plano-convex lens shaped spaceships remain idle. Scientists aren’t able to observe any sign of communication between them. But luckily the base of ship open once in every eighteen hours and they are let in to see the alien species (named Heptapods) with a glass barrier separating them.



Louise teams up with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and through her series of visits discovers that those seven legged creatures communicate through a language comprising complex circular patterns. She meets a duo in the spaceship, nick named Abbott and Costello, befriends them, and begins decoding their language. Although the detail of the way she interprets their language isn’t explored in detail, neither no explanation is backed on how those heptapods are capable of grasping Louise’s communications at the first place. The screenplay doesn’t spend time on it. Well, no sci-fi film needs to explain everything scientifically (or rather logically) to ultimate perfection. Every science fiction marries science and fantasy.  So this might well be brought in as a fantasy part of the entire plot.



There are films that can be very hard to visually tell the story, in a more convincing way. Arrival falls in that category. The visual montages- from Louise’s personal life- that spring up every now and then hint the audience to come up with a story line and towards the end serves a surprise element. This adds up a flavor, a fictional pleasure one might call it, to the narration. The film thankfully doesn’t linger around the linguist jargon for long, which if over used might have made the entire work hard to connect with.

The musical score adds up a mystic feel, especially, whenever the camera approaches towards and swims around the gigantic spaceship floating in air. Since the plot requires no action or adventure visually, this film can well be called as a ‘minimalist alien film’ made in recent times. But the minimalistic approach doesn’t affect the impact of the film, on the whole. Not a bit.

If you’re a cinephile who loves out-of-the-box films, take this engaging drama. It’s definitely rewarding.


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