Where Close Encounters of the Third Kind left the story, the movie Arrival picks it up again. Alien craft appear at twelve locations around the Earth and start making strange noises. The USA’s top translator (played by Amy Adams) is brought in to try and interpret the alien language. In doing so, Amy must also confront a tragedy in her personal life, making the whole film an existential piece about memory, transience, love and meaning.
The strength of Arrival is in its realist approach to the first contact scenario. Amy is put through a torture of safety protocols, scientific argument and academic challenge before she even gets close to the aliens. All of that builds the viewer’s appetite and the tension. The ‘reveal’ of the aliens is as wonderful as it is horrifying.
The plot is more of a problem-based scenario (like an episode of Doctor Who really), and limited in this respect. The short-story origin of the tale is to blame here. Annoyingly, having set up a realist scientific basis for proceedings, the technicalities of cracking the secret of the alien language are then glossed over somewhat. Amy doesn’t get to act too much beyond being pensive, agog and dewy-eyed. None of these issues significantly spoil the enjoyment and revelation of Arrival, however.
At the end of the day, we have a refreshingly intelligent scifi movie here, one you’ll be glad you’ve seen. There are strong themes of emotional and moral responsibility which lift this movie well above the norm. Score from me: 8.5 out of 10.