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Arrival Review

 “Yeah – that just happened…..”- Ian Donnely

Okay, this has been going on now for four years – so I’m calling it a tradition.

In that period between the end of the summer blockbusters and the holiday season, Hollywood have a habit of releasing what I call a hard sci-fi movie. No, not my beloved Star Wars type of science fantasy, I mean a movie based on, as far as possible, real science – or at least real speculative science.

Last year it was The Martian. Before that, Interstellar. Before that – Gravity.

Definitely a pattern, then.

This year – we have Arrival.

It’s a thoughtful and imaginative take on the tried and trusted sci-fi plot device of a number (in this case twelve) huge alien spacecraft appearing in various locations around the Earth. These behemoth craft hover a little above the ground, and look like, well, I guess vertical peanut halves. (That’s what they reminded me of, anyway.)

The question is – why? Why are they here? What do they want? Are they hostile?

We as Earthlings, the primitive little souls we are, naturally expect the worst – and the military are there in all their might. The craft that descended on China have the Chinese militia ready to try and blast them to the outer reaches of the galaxy. Oh, one landed in the UK – in Devon. (I would suppose that the question there is not why are you here on Earth, but what the hell do you expect to find in Devon?)

Anyhow – the American landing is in rural Montana. Again, somewhere you wouldn’t normally expect to find a spaceship of extra terrestrial origin making a landing.

The Authorities, led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruit a task force of scientists led by a leading linguist and translator Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams, taking a break from being Superman’s Lois Lane). Also along with her on the team is Ian Donnely, a leading scientist (Jeremy Rinner, taking a break from his Avengers duties).

While the world is hanging with its toes over the edge of the cliff of war and self inflicted Armageddon, the team must find a means of communication and further, need to use that means to find out exactly what the aliens want, before the trigger happy idiots of the human race escalate matters with a first strike.

Make no mistake, much as I love alien invasion films, this is no Mars Attacks, War of the Worlds or Independence Day. This is really more in the tone of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where the story is more thoughtful and indeed thought provoking than machine guns vs destructor beams.

The alien language is a complex one, and their means of communication when non verbal is a series of inky symbols drawn on the air from a tentacle. So the process of translation is one of logic and elimination as certain symbols repeat and their meaning becomes apparent from context.

When words like “weapon” are used, Dr Banks is at pains to explain that in certain languages, the word can also be interpreted as “tool” – to the over zealous CIA and the military who believe in their unbridled paranoia that they’ve just heard fighting words.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers here, suffice it to say that the film is a worthwhile metaphor for patience and tolerance, (especially needed in this day and age) beautifully told with a satisfying ending and visually stunning (apart from the inside of the spaceship which basically looks like it was carved out of rock.)

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