Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma.
When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
In an era full of crash-bang-gee-whiz science-fiction films, a movie like Arrival is a welcome bit of fresh air. While its plot treads well-worn movie tropes about fearing aliens who suddenly arrive from another planet and humanity’s struggles to unite in their response to the situation, Arrival’s story digs deep into some interesting themes, including the question, “If you knew the future, would you change anything you’re doing right now?”
Based on Ted Chiang’s tale “Story of Your Life,” Arrival stars Amy Adams as Louise, a college professor who’s a well-known linguist. One day, a dozen alien spaceships arrive at different places around the world, including a remote part of Montana. The government, stymied in their attempts to communicate with the aliens, turn to various experts for help, and Forest Whitaker’s character, Colonel Weber, enlists Louise in the cause.
Louise teams with a physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), as they enter the alien ship with some soldiers and begin to make contact with the aliens, whose primary means of communication involves spewing an ink-like substance that forms intricate circular designs. While trying to figure out what the aliens want, Louise finds herself beset by vivid dreams of herself with her daughter, who has died of cancer.
Eventually, Louise cracks the alien code and asks what they want, to which they answer, “Offer weapon.” That sets off a predictable chain of events as the U.S. military freaks out and Louise tries in vain to explain that, hey, maybe something has been lost in translation here. Meanwhile, the 11 other countries who are also trying to communicate with the aliens who have visited them begin to grow suspicious of the U.S., and when China cuts off all contact, the rest of them follow suit.
The narrative that unfolds in Arrival’s second and third acts hits many unsurprising plot notes, but the movie’s saving grace lies in Louise’s frantic attempts to not only stop the American military from doing something stupid but to also understand the visions of her daughter. In the end, the climax lies not in Louise trying to save the day but in how she deals with the revelation behind her visions.
This Blu-ray release features a code for a digital copy of the movie as well as about 80 minutes of making-of materials broken into five featurettes:
- Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival is a start-to-finish look at the making of the film, from its screenplay based on Chiang’s story to the art design to the use of experts who consulted on the movie’s use of linguistics and physics. I was reminded a bit of Interstellar, which took a similar approach.
- Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design digs into how sound was used to supplement the story, in particular the way the aliens moved and communicated.
- Eternal Recurrence: The Score covers the film’s music and how it complemented the story.
- Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process discusses a subject that you don’t often seen given its own section in a home video release: the film’s editing. Given how the movie approached the subject of time, in particular the way it could flow forward and backward, this is a fascinating featurette.
- Principles of Time, Memory & Language is one of those “Woah, dude, you just blew my mind” featurettes that attempts to give a layman’s perspective on the scientific subjects that the movie touches on. I won’t pretend that I fully understand all of it, but I enjoyed it the most of all the bonus features.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★