Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are scientists learning an alien language in Arrival.

Reel Reviews: Arrival risks a communication breakdown

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve delivers a film about aliens that is more philosophical than action filled.

  • Dec. 9, 2016 5:00 a.m.

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brought in by U.S. Army Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) to enter one of 12 alien space craft that have landed on planet Earth.

There they will attempt to establish some form of communication with the aliens inside, hoping to discover the purpose of their visit before someone decides to kill them first and ask questions later.

We say, “It’s a good film you probably won’t like.”

TAYLOR: As I mentioned last week I was looking forward to Arrival (I believe I mistakenly called it The Arrival) by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve because I had heard it was beautiful and terrifying. I didn’t find it either of those things. In fact, it looked quite dismal and dark, depressing even. However, it’s still a very well made film, interesting and entertaining.

HOWE: I will agree with you on the two points you touched on. The first being that whomever said it was terrifying needs help. It’s about as scary as a teeny tiny spider while you are sat on the loo, pants around your ankles. The second is that it is an interesting movie, but I didn’t find it entertaining. In fact, I found it pretty dull.

I know, as we left the cinema, you said you liked that there wasn’t any action (think Independence Day) and I agree. But for a sci-fi alien encounter film, Arrival doesn’t even come anywhere near to Close Encounters of The Third Kind.

TAYLOR: It doesn’t, and that’s a good comparison, so too would be Contact, I suppose. This film, like those, isn’t about the aliens, it’s about us. Specifically, Arrival is about how language is a reflection of thought and definitions can get in the way of understanding, leading to peril.

Linguistic determinism aside, it’s a film about how humans are afraid and mistrustful. However, it is true that very little happens in this movie, other than conversations with weird alien beings. I thought it was enough.

HOWE: I knew I should have gone and watched Bad Santa 2 again.

TAYLOR: Well, perhaps you have learned what these characters have.

They are the same product of all philosophical meanderings: sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. It’s more rare and special to be something rather than nothing, so take advantage of your opportunities while you can. And I guess, do your best not to generalize or assume things along the way, which is impossible because of language. So we come full circle to the vast ocean of personal responsibility because we don’t know why we’re here, only that it is better to love than to fear and correct communication helps as much as incorrect communication hinders.

I’m glad they didn’t have laser blasters, but I had hoped for a little more wisdom.

– Taylor gives Arrival 4.5 paradigm shifts out of 5.

– Howe gives it 2 snore-a-thons out of 5.

Brian Taylor and Peter Howe review the latest films every Friday.

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