Arrival is a movie that asks the question “What is the first thing we ask an alien race?” It is actually an incredibly simple set-up, spaceships land and a linguist (Amy Adams) must now develop a dialog between them. Simple but also not so much when you think about all that goes into communicating, also with a completely different species.
During the first half an hour of the film the score is terribly obnoxious, every big thing that happens is accompanied with the orchestra going nuts on a single note as loud as they can. There’s musical effect to heighten the mood of a scene and put us in the shoes of our character but this was just blunt un-subtlety.
The ship itself is like a giant floating black pill, cut down the middle. From the bottom a rectangular tunnel opens, within it they provide gravity so the walls can be easily walked on, then that leads to a age rectangular room, where a glass (or whatever the alien equivalent of glass is) separates the two species.
Their exact details are obscured in the smoke but from what we can see they look like obsidian Octopus or hands. When we learn how they function reader of Slaughterhouse 5 will notice a channeling of ideas.
Eventually a back and forth is developed through writings. Louise writes things down in English and the aliens eventually respond with their own form of writings. They look like black coffee rings, always taking a circle form but with spikes, or plashes or thicker lines or gaps within them.
Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks gives an incredibly grounded performance as this truly human but also admirable character. She is driven in her believes and is clearly an expert in her field but she is also very shaken with her world being turned upside-down because of an alien arrival. She shakes and is intimidated by the momentous task she has to achieve but proceeds to do her very best.
Throughout this entire movie there are no action scenes, no moments when gunfire accrues on-screen.This is a good thing. So many science fiction movies either are just action movies but with crazy gun designs and flashier colours or don’t trust their audience enough to stick with them through their message. Arrival has something to say and keeps saying it, without having the throw-in some loud noises to make sure your awake.
One tricky element to this movie that might end-up being a detriment. That is the fact that it is in English and language is so key to the form of the movie. Usually I wouldn’t think about this but because the movie is so keenly focused on the words it chooses and how they can be interpreted, how well will this work with other countries? The translating process is more complicated than just writing-up a direct translation and putting it into subtitles that appear on-screen. Different languages come with different sensibilities so how well can this be translated? This may turn-out to be nothing but it was a question the movie raised within me.
Arrival is a movie that will make you truly think about, is nothing else, your choice of words. How you make decisions and the options you give to an outsider. Thinking is what a science fiction movie should do. This accomplishes its mission.