LFF 2016 review: ARRIVAL

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Written by Eric Heisserer & Ted Chiang

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien & Tzi Ma

Produced by Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde & Karen Lunder

Music by Johann Johannsson

Cinematography by Bradford Young

Festival Dates: 10th, 11th & 13th October

UK General Release: 11th November 2016

Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Thriller


Brief outline: Professor of linguistics Dr Louise Banks (Adams) is enlisted by the US government to decipher the language of extra-terrestrials who initiated first contact. She is accompanied by scientist Ian Donelly (Renner) on a mission to determine their mysterious visitation. (Source: BFI)


Riding off the success of last year’s Sicario, which ended up being my favourite film of 2015 and with the most anticipated upcoming Blade Runner sequel being released in October next year; director Denis Villeneuve has made great use of timing placing this as his first foray into Science Fiction slap bang in the middle to help tide us over while we wait impatiently for when Blade Runner 2 does arrive, now officially titled ‘Blade Runner 2049′. Excitement clearly shot through the roof to see how well Villeneuve would tackle his first sci-fi picture. Personally, I always saw this film as a potential showcase for the kind of big ideas and exciting concepts we can look forward to without any worries come next October.

Villeneuve has built himself an amazing filmography so far of about four or five near perfect features, he’s a film-maker who takes so much delicate care and careful precision in ensuring plot and characters come first, with everything else that follows falling neatly into place. With that taken into consideration, there’s no wonder his latest has been in demand of such high expectations. Those expectations couldn’t have been more satisfied as this is an alien invasion film that deserves all the plaudits and appreciation it can get. This has proven to be quite a tricky review for me to write as I went into this film completely cold, having only seen the trailer once or twice and not daring to watch anything else on the internet in the fear that I may accidentally stumble across some big plot points, which would have definitely taken away all enjoyment and guessing that I had with this movie. The highest recommendation that I can bestow on all of you is that if you’re a fan of really smart, profound and intelligent sci-fi cinema, you will do the same thing I did and go in completely fresh. You won’t regret it.

What I love about Arrival is the surrounding mystery that completely overshadows everything, posing so many thought provoking questions. What do these alien visitors want? Are they good or evil? Have they come in peace or do they want to wipe out the entire human race? Will they fight back if attacked or retreat from wherever they come from? Understandably, these are the kind of worrying questions that would be running through our minds if odd looking oval spaceships decided to land in 12 different sites around the world, without even making a peep in saying a simple hello to our human  civilisation like they refuse to in this movie.

It doesn’t take long until everything gears into full throttle once the U.S government recruits the help of both linguistics University Professor Louise Banks (Adams) and mathematician scientist Ian Donelly (Renner) to help decipher an unknown message suddenly sent from the alien visitors, in the hope of establishing further communication between both parties. Danger becomes imminent when Banks is finally able to crack and translate one of the symbols the aliens create as their way of communicating with the humans, spelling out two simple words; two words that end up sending every other country into a stricken world wide spread panic, with China getting every weapon ready at their disposal and preparing themselves for an all out war. With Banks having discovered she’s able to personally connect with the aliens in a way that no one else on the rest of the planet can, can she save the rest of humanity before its too late or does this really result in the end of the world? You’ll just have to find that out for yourselves but I can assure you this film will end up being nothing like you expected and its that reason that makes Villeneuve’s latest directorial effort all the more special for it.

What makes this movie even more special, breathing new and revitalising life into this popular genre, is the fact Villeneuve and his writing team went out of their way to make exhaustive and extensive efforts to ensure the movie’s scientific ideology is one hundred per cent accurate. This gives the overall scientific ideas that ARRIVAL offers a greater deal of authenticity. This film isn’t just about an alien invasion either, the story has a real human quality to it and in the case of Adams’ character, the story deals a lot with human loss and finding the inner strength to reconnect with one another all over again. This is a sci-fi epic on one of the grandest scales that is surely not to be missed.


There’s nothing entirely wrong with the film itself, this is more about coming from my own personal experience when engaging with a science fiction movie as clever as this one. Every so often, a really smart one comes along that absolutely warrants repeated viewings with myself, not just because I really adored it – which is always bound to happen anyway – but I feel I need to re-watch it for the simple reason of better understanding it in terms of the story being told and the kind of conflicts explored between complicated characters. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I mean, I had to watch  Christopher Nolan’s Inception five times to fully understand everything that was going on as it was so multilayered. The same applied to Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I felt had to keep watching them over again to fully appreciate every conceivable detail, idea and concept that they were renowned for and revolutionised. It also means my brain can take in other aspects that I didn’t pick up on straight away previously, namely due to the fact that I usually find myself in total awe over the amazing cinematography, beautifully well made shots and the stunning set design for the first time.


Denis Villeneuve should be proud of himself that he has crafted here another masterpiece to further add to his excellent growing filmography as a director. Is there no genre he can take on that he can’t skillfully master? The answer is I think not!




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