Friday, November 18, 2016

Movie Review: Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve

Aliens have come in twelve separate ships that are randomly scattered across the planet. Each country has teams of scientists trying to figure out the aliens. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the U.S. military to help them communicate with the extra-terrestrials. Dr. Banks is chosen since she's already got a Top Secret clearance and has helped the government translate time-sensitive materials. The aliens use a language that is completely foreign so she has a huge task ahead of her. Relations with the other nations are strained as they try to determine if the visitors are a threat or peaceful. Louise is also plagued by memories of her daughter who dies of an unnamed disease.

The movie is this year's big ambitious thinky/feely science fiction film (cf. Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian). Language and memory are the main subjects of this film. The discussions about language and the various attempts to communicate with the aliens are interesting and creative. The military pressuring scientists to get results is typical of the genre. That part of the movie is mostly predictable and uninteresting, even with a fine actor like Forest Whitaker as the main military man dealing with the scientists. The nature of memory is set out as the main theme at the beginning but by the end the filmmakers have made a mess of it.

Weirdly enough, that mess is what makes Louise's narrative make sense. She comes to grips in a new and startling way with her daughter's fate after she understands the aliens' intent in coming. As a larger narrative, the story doesn't make sense but as it specifically relates to Louise and her life, it pulls things together at the end.

I have fairly mixed feelings about the movie. The score is a bit ham-fisted in melodramatizing events in the story. The movie looks very similar to other films going all the way back to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so it isn't particularly original (except for the alien writing). The ideas are interesting and fun to chew on, even if they are ultimately hard to swallow. Amy Adams gives a great performance in the lead role, holding together the shaky narrative.

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