Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Another Close Encounter

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications. 

Arrival scored big at the weekend box-office and is muscling its way into the awards race. It has been almost 40 years since Steven Spielberg made Close Encounter to the Third Kind. That is not a Spielberg film that people tend to revisit the way they do Jaws, Raiders or E.T. In its time, though, Close Encounter cast a spell of majestic awe that still reverberates through pop culture today. This film with its obsessiveness and mystery, its spaceship of light that seemed as big as a city; made the prospect of an extraterrestrial visit look as wondrous, eccentric and spectacular as we imagined it might be. 

Amy Adams is the film's quiet and luminous heart. Jeremy Renner's role is rather modest but he also seems to understand that, while Amy Adams draw on her gift for making each and every moment quiver with discovery. The actress is alive to what is around her, even if it is just ordinary, and when it is extraordinary the inner fervour she communicates is quite transporting. She is more respected as an actress than bankable. The film isn't a sequel nor is it a superhero film, it is not an Alien invasion film like Independence Day Resurgence that basically exists as an excuse to blow up stuff. Sci-fi isn't just for boys. Amy Adams is front and centre in this film, a performance that surely owned her all this Oscar buzz. The film also gives her character a personal tragedy to live with and a one that grounds the fantastical story in human emotion. As a woman, I really do believe that there is a genuine emotional storyline that can speak to women, either mothers or daughters. 

This film has been made by the godly gifted director: Denis Villeneuve, who crafted Sicario and Prisoners. He manages once again, to ground this story in a hyper-realistic way. By hooking us with the news of spaceships hovering over Earth in the most random and unsensational way possible. Denis Villeneuve builds our anticipation with great flair. Discovering what the Aliens look like, sound like and how they communicate is the dramatic heart and soul of the picture. That kind of suspense is pretty rare these days. Plus, this film has an obvious poetic grandeur. The images are stately and vast, with an almost super-earthly clarity. 

Indeed, there is a pleasing circularity to the structure of this movie and also a circular logic to it. True to its title, Arrival makes an absorbing spectacle of the initial Alien set-up. Though the Aliens don't quite have personalities, there is still something tender and touching about them. There are also, frankly, elements of familiarity. The sounds they make, and the way they look. The point being that even if Denis Villeneuve is a bold and brilliant filmmaker, when it comes to this subject, Spielberg's vision is hard to get away; it still somehow infuses everything. Finally, this notion that if you learn a new language it can rewire the way you think and that the Alien language is their big gift to Humanity is beautiful. Add to it that when learning this  language, then you are able to rewire your brain and it actually alters the nature of time: it is mesmerising. The film ties it in with *SPOILER ALERT* a back story that forms the action about Louise and the daughter (in a prologue) who she watched grow up and die. 

Overall, like all the best sci-fi it has something pertinent to say about today's world, particularly about the importance of communication and living in the moment. An ideal that shouldn't need any translation. It grips you with the strength of its ideas and the quality of its execution.

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