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Deserving every bit of praise heaped upon it in the last few months, Arrival is a the kind of film that comes along all too rarely, both an awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art genre film and a somberly beautiful meditation on the vitality of language and our perception of time itself.

It's definitely an heir to the cinematic legacy of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but also builds upon the themes of the best "first contact" movies, depicting the paradigm shift that comes with proof we're not alone in the universe in a way we'e never seen in cinema. Both global and deeply personal in scope, it's a true gem of a movie, and it's tempting to get carried away with hyperbole.

So let me step back for a second.


Linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) steps into her first class one morning to discover only a handful of students in attendance. Seemingly everyone else is standing silently in front of every available television on campus, watching as news breaks of twelve alien spacecraft that have landed in key spots around the globe and are now hovering in place. She soon receives a visit from Weber (Forest Whitaker), an army colonel who recruits her and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to travel with him to the arrival site in Montana. There they embark upon a series of trips inside the alien craft and attempt to establish a baseline of communication.

None of Earth's scientists at any of the twelve sites are completely sure if they're translating it correctly, prompting anxiety among the world's superpowers, particularly China, as they try to determine the visitors' true intent. With the world on high alert and the clock ticking, scientists like Louise have to break the communication barrier lest things go from bad to catastrophic.


Yes, it's difficult to make or even view yet another alien visitation movie without acknowledging the huge amount of times this ground has already been tread, and the quick way to categorize them all is into two camps: mean aliens or nice aliens. By Arrival's end, you can't help but sense the filmmakers have already distinguished their film in one key way. The story certainly addresses all the typical aspects of how earth's population would process first contact, but for a change, the visitors' agenda is a great deal more interesting than the usual tropes, as they haven't come to conquer us nor have they come to chastise or save us.

The real reason they've chanced the landing is much more satisfying, and affects not just the plot but the stylish and genuinely surprising manner in which the story is told. We see through Louise's eyes, and this is definitely her story, but as it unfolds we see her life, and by extension the bulk of humanity, change in a way we didn't expect. It's genuinely moving stuff, and a real kick in the pants for those of us who hold out hope that sci-fi in cinema will one day reach for the same heights the genre has been hitting in literature for decades.

The work in pretty much every technical department is excellent, but I have to make a special mention of the utterly superb music by Johann Johannsson. The term "haunting" gets thrown around a lot in critical circles to diminishing effect, but I can't think of any better way to describe Johannsson's score, at times cold and harsh, at others hypnotically dreamlike and ultimately melancholy, but always strikingly beautiful.

It's one of many elements that make Arrival required viewing for any fan, either of the genre itself or just plain old great movies.




Recommended Release: Close Encounters of the Third Kind







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