“Arrival” is out of this world


Declan Hoffman, Staff Writer

Finally, a science-fiction based film covering the seemingly purposeless presence of an extraterrestrial species that offers more than stunning graphics of traditionally awe-inspired alien ships and sensationalized explosions aback the silhouette of him and her. Instead, what is painted atop a simple yet robust plot line in Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” is a refreshing take on aliens coming to Earth.

When 12 extraterrestrial spacecraft, nicknamed ‘shells,’ make landfall across Earth, scholarly linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called upon by the U.S. army to assist in deciphering the foreign being’s communication form in hopes of determining the purpose of their visit.

Banks is joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) who will work in partnership with Banks to calculate any immediate physical or chemical threat the species may pose to the humans in the surrounding area while assisting Banks in their primary mission of deciphering the specie’s communication form.

Only a few sessions later with the seven-legged aliens they call ‘heptapods,’ after Donnelly has tagged the two they interact with on their shell ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello,’ hints over the emotions he holds toward Banks in their quest for finding answers about their new Earthly neighbors suggest a growing relationship with the linguist.

But make no mistake, this is not the same “little green men land on Earth and two lovers shoot ‘em up before they do us” movie everyone has seen too many times before.

The movie works to parallel all of the rhetorical devices that created such an enjoyable read in Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” from which the film was based, winning three awards for best novella in 1999 and another in 2000.

Over a period of time working with the heptapods, Banks is able to begin forming her hypotheses regarding how the strangely new circular symbolic language could be translated to the language of humans.

It becomes clear to her from very early that because of how the extraterrestrials have evolved to communicate, their cognitive ability is abnormally circular. The way the heptapods think is absent of a form of time as linear as thought of by humans which ultimately ends up playing an important part in Banks’ life, the plot and the movie’s themes.

The movie speaks to a realm of issues relatable to anyone’s life with much greater depth than what may be initially obvious from any superficial dialogue. Perhaps what was most refreshing was seeing an over-beaten Hollywood plotline reinvented with a completely original angle, first generated by Chiang.

For Canadian director Villeneuve, this marks one of only a handful of his films that has had a release in the states, and the first with a release as widespread and during such a prime movie time as now, passing $73.1 million in sales.

Sure, this film is not made for the masses. It likely will not mean nearly the same thing to the first viewer as it does to the second, but that’s what makes it that much better for the person who it does resonate with. “Arrival” is not the cookie cutter option complete with sex, drugs, destruction and drama.

That said, there were certainly many noticeable plot and execution flaws in “Arrival” that would have been nice to be addressed in the adaptation. Perhaps these hiccups wouldn’t be as noticeable in a second viewing, but they were still there nonetheless.

Never were the mistakes as severe as to take away from the experience or completely destroy Chiang’s original purpose which is all that matters.

What director Villeneuve is able to pull off with what may seem like a trivial cast, for all of us that prejudged the film, is nothing short of admirable and a successful complement of the short story from which it was based.

Declan Hoffman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]