Tuesday, 15 November 2016


In twelve locations across the globe an alien spaceship touches down just above the planet’s surface, what they want is a mystery. One such ship touched down in Minnesota, not far from where linguist professor Louise Banks works. Having security clearance due to previously helping the army in an earlier job, and being one the best linguist experts in the country, Banks is the ideal person to try and help translate the alien responses.

Any financial success of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival would only go to show that there’s room for deep, smart and measured Science Fiction that takes its time to build character, story, and themes. Arrival is not an alien encounter in the mould of Independence Day or Battle LA but more Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a wonderful, slow moving Science Fiction film that examines how we would even begin to communicate with an alien species whose language we are completely unfamiliar with. The film follows the progress of Louise Banks as she attempts to translate the alien symbols into an understandable language, curiosity drives her and curiosity drives us into wanting to find out more about the alien’s language and how they communicate. We get to see Louise translate this alien language, looking at the language of symbols trying to interpret what they are saying, it makes for a gripping to story to watch her get to grips with this alien language. 

Comparisons between the likes Close Encounters and Contact are easy to draw with the attempts to communicate with the aliens via other means other than vocal communication (in Close Encounters it was sound) and the beautifully drawn parental relationships in Contact. Played exceptionally by Amy Adams, Bank’s relationship with her daughter and sense of loss becomes the film’s main anchor in audiences engaging emotionally with the film. The opening sequences effectively and sensitively builds a long mother-daughter relationship beautifully in just a few minutes. Banks is an engaging character and we share her curiosity and sense of wonder at perhaps being one of the first humans to communicate with an extra-terrestrial race. The film does a masterful job at building the drama and tension regarding the alien’s motivation, their language structure and physical appearance as at first they are protected by a sheet of glass and surrounded by thick fog.

With critical hit after critical hit Denis Villeneuve has shown that he can become one of the finest filmmakers in the early 21st century. Arrival is another beautifully designed film, the alien spaceship set design is unearthly, the alien design isn’t a disappointment and the introductory long take to the camp and the alien ship’s location in Minnesota perfectly captures the sense of wonder and importance such an event would bring. What Villeneuve does best is adapt Eric Heisserer’s superb screenplay into a slow moving but deeply thoughtful and insightful film about first contact with an extra-terrestrial race.

The film isn’t perfect, however, Louise Banks is a well developed character but she’s focused on so much that any other characters aren’t of any note, it would have been better if Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly received more attention. The film is also about international relations and cooperation as many countries react differently to such a unique event, with Russia and China taking a more aggressive path when dealing with the new arrivals. Perhaps it would have been beneficial if more attention was given to those who were mistrustful of the aliens, which may help explain a big plot point in greater detail.  
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is excellent and Bradford Young’s cinematography is glorious but the compelling story in which the Amy Adams’ Louise Banks (with help from Renner’s Ian) deciphers the alien language is smart science fiction that is a resounding success on an emotional and thoughtful level. 

It’s also interesting to note that if you add the first name of Jeremy Renner’s character (Ian) and the surname of Amy Adams' (Banks) character you get Ian Banks, a name similar to a very well-known Science Fiction writer Iain Banks 



  1. Great review! I loved this. The last 20 minutes or so firmly put it in A+ territory for me. I was okay with Louise getting most of the development since it was her story, and I think had they focused on Ian more, the reveal wouldn't have been as big.

    1. Maybe but I guess they could have at least made him an engaging character.