Sequels and remakes dominate our cinemas, with the likes of Harry Potter, Captain America and James Bond returning again and again for their guaranteed financial success. Sequels start to worry me once we venture outside of the franchise format. With Ridley Scott’s Prometheus having lacked the charm and intelligence of Alien, the announcement of Blade Runner 2049 concerned and disheartened me greatly. It will take place 30 years after the original and incidentally is scheduled to arrive in cinemas on my 26th Birthday – lucky me. I remain a sceptic but my worries are reduced slightly after sitting through Arrival – the latest sci-fi epic from Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve. A painful opening montage featuring a mother and her terminally ill daughter opens Arrival. We are then transported to “the day they arrived” – a charming and somewhat nostalgic line from sci-fi films of yesteryear that introduces the film’s central story. The grieving mother we see in the film’s first sequence is Doctor Louise Banks, a renowned linguist whose skills and expertise are in high demand from the US Government following the appearance of 12 mysterious monoliths that hover sinisterly across the globe. For once they aren’t hovering above the Empire State Building or worried citizens of Tokyo, they are spread far and wide, including over Devon, England. Swiftly whisked away to rural America, Banks is tasked with communicating with the alien species that lurk inside the oval ship, interpreting their visual language and ultimately uncovering what their purpose is on earth. Banks builds a strong rapport with military scientist Ian Donnelly, who is simultaneously tackling the same question through science rather than language. A smart commentary on how we as a species and as individual nations tackle potential and unfamiliar threats, this is a triumphant and unexpected film.
Arrival has lots in common with Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind and also takes inspiration from other sci-fi masterpieces. Yet, with enough original ideas bouncing around, Arrival is a fresh and engaging experience. Potentially the busiest actor of the year, Amy Adams is exceptional as an isolated linguist battling against not only the clock and pressure from the government but a masculine world in which she must work extra hard to earn equal respect. Jeremy Renner is perfectly charming as Ian, in a crucial but certainly a supporting role. There is no doubt this is Adams’ film. I was incredibly impressed with her take on the sci-fi heroine. Villeneuve doesn’t pander to his audience, feeling no pressure to make us like the lead character. Banks spends a lot of Arrival having to justify her actions and intentions to a room of unimpressed men; I’m delighted she didn’t have to work as hard for the audience looking in. Arrival has an ever-changing aesthetic. The alien bodies themselves are clearly inspired by previous cinematic beasts and are revealed slowly throughout the film. Some scenes feel heavily influenced by the likes of Nolan’s Inception whereas others feel philosophical and beautiful, as though they were transported from Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It’s hard to review Arrival’s narrative without giving away great spoilers; praise is in order for the film’s marketing team who have given just the right amount away in the film’s trailers, teasers and promotional campaign. The film’s plot certainly worked for me. Complex and well paced, it’s a narrative that keeps on giving as the film develops. An intense and intelligent feat, Arrival is splendidly unconventional and confident.
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