Review: Close encounters with life, death and aliens in Arrival

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in Arrival. Picture: Paramount Pictures/Jan Thijs

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in Arrival. Picture: Paramount Pictures/Jan Thijs - Credit: PA

Arrival is definitely more upbeat and hopeful than the director's previous films and even has a few chuckles, but remains comparatively high minded. It is hard sci-fi with a human face.

Arrival (12A)

****

Having landed the job of making the little desired Blade Runner sequel, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, has decided to get his hand in by making a small(ish) scale, serious science fiction piece.

His trial run is Close Encounters without Richard Dreyfuss; a first contact story without an everyman perspective.


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Instead we see everything through the eyes of the Truffaut figure: in this case linguistic expert (Amy Adams) charged with trying to communicate with one of the twelve, giant grey eggs that have landed around the planet.

Ominously Arrival opens with Adams reminiscing about her daughter who died young, which is not a good start; you immediately fear that some bolder of sentimentality is being loaded ready to be lobbed in our direction at some point nearer the conclusion.

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Sci-fi movies trying to deal seriously with encountering alien lifeforms are apt to disappoint.

Often they are like being lead down a sleek minimalist corridor full of bleak modernist paintings, only to discover that at the end room there is a fluffy white teddy bear bearing the message I lub you.

Villenueve though is not a 'heart' kind of guy. Arrival is definitely more upbeat and hopeful than his previous films (though if your previous films include Enemy, Sicario and Prisoners.

That's not so much of a boast) and even has a few chuckles, but it remains comparatively high minded. It is hard sci-fi with a human face.

Arrival takes on the thing that these films often chicken out of. You do see the aliens. They aren't that original (they look like tree trunks playing the piano) but the attempt to imagine an alien language struck me as impressive and credible.

The film does at least try to conceive of lifeforms that are beyond our conception.

The film attempts to make something that is slow paced, medium sized, thoughtful but still engages with an audience.

It is quiet and slow, but not wilfully so. Even so, it is not a film to go and see on a Saturday night, better to try and sneak into a matinee and hope it is mostly empty.

The film has a quietness that needs to be replicated in the audience.

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