Arrival is one of the best science fiction/mystery films to be released about first contact since Jodi Foster's thought-provoking film Contact. Measured against Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001, it's a solid 8.5. In fact, it takes one of the central themes of that film and offers an interesting take on how would our God-fearing mankind interact with EBEs (extraterrestrial biological entities)? In fact, this movie is not so much about the aliens as it is about mankind's own internal dialogues about reacting to such a monumental event. Let's face it folks, mankind to this point in time, has been fueled by our emotional fears in just about all of our political and cultural intolerances since mankind first started recording tribal differences right up to our current religious-fueled international battles. Beyond what will ET look like and behave like, how will we interact with ET? How will we communicate with them? And what will ET think of humans and our small-minded, violent ways?
While the main theme may be fear, the more interesting backdrop of central character's journey is one of loss; of finding one's center, especially difficult when the past and present seem to fold in on each other. When linguistics professor Louise Banks (Adam Adams) is summoned to lead an elite team of investigators (that include Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg) to try to decipher the language of the aliens, her world is literally turned upside down. (A very clever device used when she and her team first enter the alien vessel.) Looking at the elongated egg-shaped vessel floating perfectly silent and still in the middle of a field in Utah is as evocative as the monolith first seen in 2001.
Arrival is also a slow-burning intergalactic mystery. A high stakes, race-against-time political chess match as to how mankind will respond to the arrival of 12 alien vessels -- their ships do look like ancient hand carved stone vessels that might have been found in an archeological excavation -- flloating in 12 random locations around the globe. Why have they arrived on Earth? Are they benevolent or malevolent? Will they strike first and take no prisoners? Or will mankind strike first and start a global war?
From the micro theme of loss to the macro theme of intolerance, one is left tittering between both narratives, and both are emotionally satisfying. Kudos to director Denis Villeneuve for crafting this emotional roller coaster into a full length feature. It was adapted from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. (Mr. Villeneuve is currently working on the next Blade Runner movie starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford!)
Make no mistake, this is not some silly shoot-em-up video game sci-fi film like Independence Day 2. This is an extremely thoughtful movie that asks "what if..." and for that reason alone it is well worth one's time and effort.
Arrival (Paramount) opens nationally on November 11th.