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Earth Prepares For An Unexpected Arrival
Arrival tells the story of a series of alien craft arriving on the planet, and the efforts of a language expert and others to understand the intent of the visitors. Amy Adams stars as Lousie Banks, a university educator whose students ask her to turn on the classroom TV as they receive word of a worldwide phenomenon. Aliens have arrived in twelve different locations throughout the world. She soon gets a personal visit from Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who needs a translator at the location in Montana where the aliens have stopped in North America. She agrees, and gets teamed with other Army personnel and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist who helps explain the scientific portions of the alien encounters.
Together, Louise and Ian discover these aliens, who have seven limbs, communicate using circles with distinctive patterns, and these words don't have sounds. Other scientists, language experts, and military personnel at the other locations share the conclusions they've been able to draw from their experiences. Some trouble arises when Louise and others believe they interpret the alien words as they possess a weapon. Several countries withdraw from the talks about the heptapods, led by China. Louise, based on her encounters, doesn't feel entirely sure that weapon necessarily means a device to end humanity. She does, however, want to find a way to convince the Chinese General Shang (Tzi Ma) to not commence an attack on the heptapods.
Arrival, which is based on a novella entitled Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang, is an interesting look at a close encounter with beings from another planet. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the movie suspenseful as Lousie and Ian try to help the military determine whether the heptapods are a threat or not. In these encounters, they grow comfortable with the heptapods they meet, and Ian even names them Abbott and Costello. The main problem I had with the film came when the film umtimately revealed its hand. It was far too easy for me to see how Louise's dreams and the things she learned on this assignment related to one another. Also, Villeneuve moves a little to slowly in the opening portion of the movie as the humans and the aliens become acquainted. The revelations themselves are satisfying, and even poignant, and that helps to compensate for their obvious nature.
Adams, Renner, and Whitaker dominate nearly all of the screen time, and they show they are up to the task. Adams, as Louise, enjoys the challenge of learning a new language, but also knows the serious nature of her assignment. The assignment reaches obsessive levels as she grows to understand what Abbott and Costello tell her through their symbols. She even convinces Weber to not launch an attack when she tells him about Captain Cook and his first encounter with a kangaroo. Renner, as Ian, shows the aliens offer no environmental threat to Earth, and shows he's a scientific complement to his linguist partner. When Louise decides to talk to the aliens without a hazmat suit, he follows her lead. His bit of narration proves his admiration for her. Whitaker offers good support as Weber, a man trained to fight, but a man who understands that the beings who have arrived may not be hostile. In addition to Ma, others with small roles of note are Michael Stuhlbarg as an intelligence agent and Mark O'Brien as a captain who briefs and accompanies Louise and Ian on their fact finding mission.
Arrival takes a look at the world man knows, and shows what could happen in the event humans have contact with people from another world. Obviously, people must prepare, if at all possible, against an attack. Perhaps not as obvious are other-worldly beings who come to explore, much like Captain Cook did. The movie can also be seen as an allegory about the dismissive divisions made by people. Every person with the ability to reason provides a learning experience, good or bad. Man cannot dismiss everyone simply because others don't fit into their norms. People nautrally have differences, but they have the right to prove themselves before judgment. That process truly started for Louise Banks when she showed herself for who she is.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give arrival three stars. A close encounter, or a war of the worlds?