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article imageReview: ‘Arrival’ is the sincerest type of science fiction Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 12, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Arrival’ is a riveting science fiction narrative that convincingly narrates what an alien encounter could look like, depicting both the international and local challenges such an event would present, while remaining optimistic in its approach.
As NASA regularly announces the discovery of distant planets with life sustaining environments, it’s easy to wonder what an encounter with alien life may look like. In addition to the aliens’ possibly strange appearance, how would we communicate with them? Would they come in peace? How would they arrive? Originally the answers to these questions were envisioned in science fiction books, then they moved to films. Without knowing anything about what may be out there, the possibilities of an encounter are infinite. Arrival is the latest picture to imagine what could happen if Earth received visitors from outer space.
On a typical day, great shadows appeared in the sky and pill-shaped spaceships landed in strategic positions around the globe. Between certain hours of the day, they permit a team of humans to enter the capsule. However, although it provides both sides opportunities to study each other, they’re not capable of direct conversation. Thus the government recruits linguistic expert, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to translate the hieroglyphs used by the aliens to communicate. Louise makes incredible progress and begins to form a connection with the aliens. However, in other parts of the world, frustration leads to hostility and the fragile peace that exists between the two species may be short-lived.
This is an updated and more sophisticated version of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rather than trying to communicate via Morse code and light shows, the authorities opt to learn the aliens’ language. Using computers and top field specialists, they study the symbols used by the creatures to answer their questions, deciphering their meaning and creating a key that can be used to correspond further. Once uploaded into the computer, speaking with the aliens becomes much less one-sided and the purpose of their visit grows somewhat clearer — though not crystal. However, in spite of these breakthroughs, there are factions that believe they must be destroyed regardless of the purpose of their journey and in spite of what an alliance could mean for the human race. Consistently defying Col. Weber’s (Forest Whitaker) orders, it often appears Louise and Ian are the only things standing between humanity and interstellar war.
The encounter is also linked to an increasingly fascinating secondary narrative related to Louise and the exceptionally realistic dreams she has regularly. As the team works day and night on translating the alien language, Louise secretly also carries the burden of these mysterious visions. Yet in spite of the effects this job may be having on her personal well-being, she is determined to see it all the way through and get to the core of the aliens’ intentions. Adams’ compassion and thoughtfulness permeate her character, making all of Louise’s decisions appear plausible. She also has excellent chemistry with Renner as their characters’ respect for each other quickly evolves into a loyal friendship. Ian is both smart and funny, allowing Renner to play to his charming strengths.
Director Denis Villeneuve transfers his dramatic narrative skills to this gripping science fiction story, which is grounded in realism. Notwithstanding the fictitious scenario depicted, the film does an excellent job enacting what actually could happen if aliens came to Earth without too many fanciful flourishes. Most notably, Arrival rejects the doom-and-gloom and blockbuster battles at the centre of its predecessors’ narratives.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
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