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Review: ‘Arrival’ is an intellectually engaging sci-fi masterpiece in the same vein as ‘Interstellar’

Amy+Adams+as+Louise+Banks+in+ARRIVAL+by+Paramount+Pictures
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs
Amy Adams as Louise Banks in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

The best type of science fiction movies force the viewer to think.

Not all films of the genre live up to this expectation, as evidenced by the 2011 disaster, “Battle: Los Angeles.”

Fortunately, a handful of recent sci-fi films have managed to not only achieve visual splendor, but also expand the mind in a profound way. This list includes “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” and the newly released “Arrival.”

“Arrival” begins as a fairly typical alien-human interaction film. However, by the end, it has turned into something far more complex. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistic expert and university professor. When a group of mysterious spacecrafts appear at various locations around the globe, Banks is called to assist in communicating with the mysterious beings, accompanied by Dr. Ian Donnelly, who is played by Jeremy Renner.

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Early on, viewers learn that Banks had a young daughter named Hannah who died before the film’s events took place. That aspect becomes crucial toward the end.

Banks, Donnelly and company then make first contact with the otherworldly creatures, which basically resemble giant feet with tentacles. The scene of the first contact with the aliens creates brilliant suspense and tension as the adventurers slowly make their way toward these mysterious beings.

They may not appear as intimidating or terrifying beings, but one of the interesting points of this film is that it does not aim to present the aliens as menaces that need to be exterminated. Rather, the goal becomes communicating with them and learning their language in an effort to figure out their purpose, thus making a point about the affect that language has on society.

Adams leads the cast in a terrific performance that probably represents the high point of her career so far. She steals the show as a grieving mother and linguist trying to develop methods of communication for speaking with other-worldly creatures.

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The middle of the film drags on a little bit, as Banks and her team continue to develop means of human-alien communication. This gets a little tiring, but the film picks back up as fear and unrest starts to set in across the globe.

At this point, countries around the world prepare to wage war on the aliens even though the beings have showed no aggression toward humans. This causes Banks to board the spaceship alone, creating one of the film’s most intensely visual scenes that takes viewers on some kind of cinematic acid trip.

The end of the film presents a plot twist that will stretch the intellectual grasp of many viewers. The twist evokes deep, thoughtful ideas about language and time that will challenge and entertain any curious mind.

“Arrival” gets very confusing and probably needs multiple viewings in order to have a full understanding of what’s going on, but it makes you think—something films often cannot do.

This movie will philosophically stretch the intellectual boundaries of the mind in a way that most modern blockbusters fail to do. What begins as a typical alien movie slowly transforms into an intelligent, thought-provoking masterpiece that is easily one of the best science fiction films of recent memory.

Grade: A


Follow Alec Kuehnle on Twitter.


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