Based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chaing Arrival is a 2016 science-fiction film starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. Jeremy Renner started working on this film immediately after the filming of Captain America: Civil War ended. The film deals with the arrival of an alien species and how different countries attempt to make contact with the visitors.
Now as you can imagine I have got a unique perspective regarding a film like Arrival because it deals with a massive first contact scenario that affects the entire planet. Naturally I will be looking at the ideas behind the film in a bit of detail later on but before going any further I need to give you, my loyal reader, the gist on what is happening
The film opens with linguist Louise Banks (Adams) with her daughter who dies very young from a rare form of cancer. One day twelve mysterious oval craft appear at different locations around the globe, and a US Army Coronel named Weber (Whitaker), that Louise has worked with before, invites her to come to the location of one of the craft in Montana to see if she can decipher the visitor’s language. Louise agrees to go and onboard the transport helicopter meets with a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly (Renner).
Louise and the rest of the team are tasked with trying to determine why the aliens have come to Earth, but in order to do that, they need to discover a means of communicating with the visitors. The time that the team can spend onboard the alien craft is limited and they can only visit every 18 hours during a window in which there is an atmosphere within the ship that the humans can breathe.
As time passes and Louise starts to decipher more and more of the alien’s language, she starts to communicate with them, but paranoia grips the Earth as the different countries around the planet start to interpret what the aliens have come for. A War of the Worlds looks inevitable as China moves a huge military force into position and prepare to attack the ship on their soil with numerous of other countries following suit…
Right, so let’s consider the obvious stuff first, so an alien species that look like octopi have built ships capable of crossing the void of space and have chosen certain locations around the world to land on. Naturally the first response of the military forces is that the craft are the first step in an invasions, and prepare to attack. But, what always troubles me about films like this are that any species capable of building interstellar craft are going to be more than capable of defending those ships from anything a race as puny as you humans can throw at it, hell my ship is only a scout craft and if you fired a nuke at it, the shields would barely register the impact as anything more severe than someone coughing on them. I get that human beings, especially those in authority always assume the worst, but how about we have a story in which the scientists run the show for a change.
The aliens communicate using shapes created with a secretion that looks like ink, and over time the humans begin to decipher what these symbols mean, plus that one symbol can have numerous “words” in it. The thing is that I am an alien and I have figured out how to speak to you humans using language that you can understand, so why have the aliens here not bothered to just explain why they are here in the language that humans can understand?? In the film Louise figures out why the aliens have come because they explain it to her but if they had simply told them then the film would have been about twenty minutes long.
Okay, so it turns out the language the aliens communicate in is a “gift” that they want humanity to have because it will give humans a means of seeing versions of the future and in some 3000 years the aliens will need humanity’s help. The aliens know this which is why they have appeared now in order to get humans to begin co-operating with one another by giving each nation a piece of a puzzle that can essentially only be solved through mutual sharing of information. So…again, why not just hand over the information, why go through all this bullshit when they could simply tell humans what their intentions are from the beginning??
Plus it raises the question that if the aliens can see into the future then why do the aliens on the Montana ship, nicked named Abbott and Costello, allow Costello to be injured by a device some rogue soldiers plant when they could have just removed it from the ship??
This leads me nicely onto the idiot grunts, so around the world millions of ordinary people begin to panic, and fear that the aliens have come to invade. So a group of four soldiers take it upon themselves to plant a bomb in the chamber where Louise and Ian have been trying to communicate with Abbott and Costello. I mean what was possibly going through their minds when they take it upon themselves to attack two beings of an alien race that haven’t done anything threatening up to that point?? It just smacks of people in the military being dicks that resort to blowing stuff up when they get afraid, which I suppose could summarise the military as a whole on this world.
In addition if the aliens can see the future and so can others as their language is deciphered then why don’t they change anything they know is coming?? Or is the aliens arrival and the sharing of their language already written into the alien’s timeline so they are simply doing what they needed to do?? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy of some sort?? The thing is though that as Louise deciphers more of the language she begins seeing flashes of events that are yet to take place, however, no one else seems to develop this ability. Ian works with her and even though he is also learning what their language is at no point does he demonstrate the same ability to see into the future.
...It transpires that what happens with Louise’s daughter, Hannah, is actually a flash-forward, so it could be argued that as she knows that Hannah is going to die young of a rare form of cancer she could make the choice not to have her. But she does anyway. So even knowing that Hannah will die of cancer when she is still only a child Louise decides to have her anyway. Now before I left Brian I did father a spawn of squid-lings (they aren’t squid-like that is just what my species calls younger versions of ourselves) and if I knew that they were going to die before their first moulting cycle I wouldn’t have fathered them. I get that Louise chooses to have time with Hannah even knowing the outcome because that time is precious but dying of a rare form of cancer after presumably a long and painful battle with the disease should have been enough reason to not have her. No parent wants to outlive their child. I can’t say that I understood Louise’s decision in this respect because it seemed to me to be a completely selfish choice.
Basically what I am saying is, what is the point of having the ability to see into the future if you aren’t going to change anything??
If I could have looked at my life and seen that I’d spend thirty-three years and counting on this planet of course waiting for my people to pick up the phone, I’d have made a note in my log that maybe my people could send a probe to check out this solar system and then kept right on flying…I wouldn’t have landed here in the first place…still now I am here I have to stay until the job is done and they answer my call…
Anyway, I know I am biased against movies about first contact because as an alien I could point out everything that is wrong with a film like this but it would be unfair to say that the film was complete and utter garbage. There are positives and I have to say that Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner work well on screen together. Naturally Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is always good in whatever role he is in, and here is no exception. He manages to play an intelligent military officer which is a bit of an oxymoron I know, but he is able to keep his superiors off the backs of the scientists whilst they do their work. He is only able to do so much though because like I said those that run this little blue planet are monumentally stupid and when confronted by something they don’t understand their first instinct is to attack.
The effects are also pretty decent with Abbott and Costello taking on the appearance of octopus-like creatures but also manage to convey intelligence despite the fact that they have no facial features. The special effects are used relatively sparingly which does help to root the film in reality, this is despite the fact that Amy Adams interacted with various aliens in Man of Steel and Jeremy Renner did in Avengers Assemble. In fact thinking about it the main leads have all had dealings with aliens in previous films and Forest Whitaker even played an alien in Battlefield Earth so maybe they all wanted to do a serious alien film which is why they signed up to be in Arrival.
There were positives about the film but unfortunately in my opinion the film was too slow, the aliens could have simply landed and told the human race why they were there and things would still have ended happily. Louise was supposed to be a sympathetic character but I just couldn’t accept that a parent would allow their child to exist knowing that they would die of cancer when they were still young.
Honestly though, I thought Arrival was just boring, the aliens made things difficult, and naturally the stupidity of the human race is at the forefront. I really cannot see how this species of human beings will survive because whenever something appears that you cannot understand your first instinct is to attack. I always hate it when human military forces engage the enemy before knowing an alien species intentions. Plus, any alien species that doesn’t immediately open fire on this planet from orbit the moment they arrive must have benign intentions otherwise, no human would live long enough to even make an attempt at communication.
A overly long film which should have remained a short story and whilst it did have some interesting ideas I just couldn’t get engaged, yes it is well acted and the special effects were good, but for me it was just dull. The military are naturally idiots with a group of soldiers attacking without provocation, and the rest of the world taking up arms against the aliens without knowing why they have arrived. The film gets a Thumbs Down, I’m sure that people will like the style, and the acting and everything else but for me the film was just tedious.
4/10 – A below average first contact movie in which the humans in charge make one stupid decision after another and even when Louise develops the ability to see into the future she still opts to have a child she knows will die slowly and painfully of cancer.