Review: Arrival (movie 2016)

This adaptation of Ted Chiang ‘The Story of Your Life’ is remarkably good. Good cast, effective dialogue and gorgeous cinematography help usher an intelligent plot that treats its audience as thinking adults.

As a first contact story, the flow of events is not (on the whole) that surprising. Alien craft arrive on Earth unannounced. The aliens avoid the obvious cliche of parking their ships above famous monuments but otherwise do the scattered-around-the-world thing. The military forces of multiple nations are mobilised and scientists are recruited to attempt to contact the aliens. What starts as a multinational effort descends into a geopolitical crisis, as suspicion and fear cloud the attempts to communicate…

Amy Adams plays the central character – a linguist called Louise Banks. Supported by Jeremy Renner as a physicist and Forrest Whitaker as the US colonel heading the military operation, Dr Banks uses her knowledge of linguistics to find a way of communicating with the enigmatic heptapod (7 footed) aliens.

But, without providing spoilers, things aren’t quite what they seem. The film plays some familiar but brilliantly executed twists.

In tone, it reminded me most of Interstellar: combining multiple ideas with a rising tension in a very visually appealing film. However, Arrival manages to avoid the pretentiousness of Interstellar and the bloated story line. It manages to prevent itself spilling out of control and also answers most of the questions it poses (or least leaves them answerable as an argument in the cinema car park afterwards).

The film more than earns its major twist and unreliableness of the film structure is done in plain sight. Yes, there is a deceit in what the film presents and leads you to believe but it cleverly hides this among what at first appears to be a movie cliche.

Best SF film of 2016? That I’ve seen, yes.





  1. Theladyinsomnia

    Also they’ve released a movie tie-in paperback of the novella. Perfect gift for friends who don’t know Chiang or his flavour of SF yet


  2. Aaron

    Thus far this year, as far as “science fiction” movies go, I’ve seen Arrival, Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Ghostbusters. I’d rank them in that order.