Nov 17, 2016

It's better than Contact and almost as good as Close Encounters.


Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: A-

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners)

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street), based on the sci-fi novel Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

Cast: Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1h 56 m

by John DeSando

“Now that’s a Proper introduction.” Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams

Alien visitation can be pretty much as you envision it because no one has a clue what aliens would look like or how they would communicate. The  latter is the special focus of Arrival, a very modern mash up of Close Encounters of the Third Kind , Contact, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and countless other sci-fi's that attempt to show the biggest challenge to be understanding the visitors before the military makes a mess.

Louise is a linguist engaged by the US to translate the whale-like sounds of heptapods, who have seven elephant trunk-like legs and squirt ink in Rorschach circles that form the language she must translate before the military gets trigger happy. Beside the emphasis on good communication skills, Arrival effectively touches on the need for cooperation to face a potential threat from outer space.

It becomes clear that before we deal with other worlds, we need to understand each other in this one.  Starting with oneself as Louise must do, and her physicist partner in the project, Ian (Jeremy Renner), understanding the foreign language becomes more an art and less a science.

Director Dennis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer expertly guide us through the competing forces during the uncertainty of the invasion without the usual screaming and yelling of mass hysteria or many other tropes of the sci-fi genre. The 12 space ships around the world are more like the apostles on an almost inscrutable mission, carried  by ships that look like contact lenses, all  the better for us to see ourselves, I suppose.

To say much more would be to reveal plot, not a good thing in a film that luxuriates in ambiguity.  Sufficient to say that Arrival is an entertaining and intelligent voyage into our minds as it provokes us to consider the power of memory shaping how we deal with reality  now and the power of communication to bridge the gap of misunderstanding . Some day world peace may depend on those skills.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at