Arrival is the latest film by Denis Villeneuve, whose body of work over the last four years has been extraordinary. Villeneuve is currently directing Bladerunner 2049, following on from Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario. Based on “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, it stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whittaker and concerns what would happen if alien spaceships landed on earth. In Villaneuve’s conceptualisation of this time-honoured movie basis, a team led by a linguist has to investigate and attempt to communicate with the tentacled alien lifeforms. As a result of the aliens’ arrival, communication breaks down between world powers and global war also becomes a major possibility.
The film has a mind-altering twist that viewers will not see coming. Adams’ performance is excellent—she should have been nominated for the Oscar for at least one of her roles in 2016, the other being Nocturnal Animals. Villeneuve has created a smart, beautifully shot science fiction film that shows the very best of mankind, which is a breath of fresh air in the current political climate.
The special effects are subtle yet astonishing. CGI is sparingly used and blended so well with live footage that you simply don’t notice it. It is probably the most realistic depiction of what might happen if there were to be an alien invasion ever put on film—death cults emerge, governments struggle to prevent mass hysteria, and in the end the film is centred on a human drama between the characters played by Adams and Renner.
The film creates a sense of awe with its visual design, especially the elliptical spaceships. The Kubrickian, 2001-like shots—especially when the spaceships first come into view and when the team are attempting to communicate with the aliens—make the movie. This is enhanced by a score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who was shamefully disqualified from a much deserved Oscar nomination because the judges felt a piece by Max Richter, “The Blue Notebooks,” was used too prominently in the opening and closing scenes. It’s an unusual ambient score using loops and vocals. Jóhannsson is on board to score the new Bladerunner sequel as well, which should be fantastic.
Personally, my first viewing was in the early morning at the London Film Festival, and the visuals almost put me in a dream state. A second viewing was a must, and absolutely blew me away. Villeneuve’s last four films have been so astonishing that I am really looking forward to Bladerunner 2049.
The disc includes 70 minutes of featurettes covering linguistics, the editing process and sound design.