There is a single shot in Arrival (pictured above) that captures its central conceit of alien visitation. As the camera glides closer towards the alien spaceship past mountains with rolling clouds, we ask ourselves 'What is that?' and 'Why is it here?'. It establishes world building that director Denis Villeneuve is so good at capturing. In Sicario he brought out the beast in Juarez and a sense of foreboding thanks to extraordinary landscape shots of the Arizona/Mexico border (Donald Trump probably loved it). In Arrival he captures an air of mystery and wonderment from the arrangement of what we see. This level of skill is why he is a perfect choice to helm the forthcoming Blade Runner sequel '20149'. I can't think of a better director to take us back to Ridley Scott's Los Angeles. But back to Arrival, Villeneuve's mawkish, complex but often fascinating take on close encounters for a new generation.
Arrival has a threadbare story but it holds together thanks to another commanding performance from Amy Adams and an abundance of intriguing but not fully explored ideas. Adams plays Louise, a language specialist who is asked to communicate with the aliens on board known as 'Heptapods'. Louise begins communicating by writing words on a card and mimicking movement with gradual success. It's from here that her own thoughts begin to link with the alien's cerebral language. Arrival is at its best during these sequences which are never less than fascinating and makes the point effectively that communication is a powerful tool, secondary to aggressive resistance. A sub-plot involving the rest of the world's response to the alien appearances is less so but only because it covers the cliches too obviously. Who would have thought for example that Russia and China would be the first to declare war on the poor buggers huh?
Arrival arrives (oops) at a denouement similar to Interstellar. It's surprisingly sentimental and rushes through its revelations without any pause to consider if anything happening is making sense. It doesn't but then again Science Fiction can still be great if it's original and introduces complex ideas that sparks discussion.
Visually audacious, Denis Villeneuve somber and low key Sci-Fi has plenty to say about our own troubled world and has a final twist that makes you re-access the film's clever structure. Interstellar offered more spectacle, Ex Machina was more quietly thrilling, but Arrival is nevertheless a fascinating continuation of an on-going Sci-Fi revival.