Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a sci-fi drama film (adapted from the short story Story of Your Life by Eric Heisserer) set in the near future where aliens, referred to as heptapods, land simultaneously in 12 different locations on Earth. Although there is a military presence in the film, it’s devoid of any strong battle scenes or out-right war that typically compose films about alien encounter. Rather, the story of Arrival is one of communication and language, and the struggle to avoid being mistranslated. It thrills its audience with its visuals and also carries emotional depth, creating a surreal final product.

The story follows Louis Renner (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor at an unnamed university. Having received top-secret clearance from previous work as a military translator, she is the perfect candidate when Colonel Weber seeks someone to help him decode an audio file of heptapod voice modulations. He becomes disinterested in her after she insists she needs to see the aliens in person in order to decipher their language, and seems ready to move on to the next linguists on his list when Renner poses a question to ask the next candidate: “Ask him the Sanskrit word for ‘war,’ and its translation.” While the other linguists translates the word “gavisti” as “an argument,” Renner translates it as “a desire for more cows.” Her answer not only wins her the position on the team studying the heptapods, but it also foreshadows the way Renner approaches the task of  learning. While ultimately trying to figure out what the heptapods’s purpose on earth is, she strays away from violent tactics, and practices open communication, ever careful that the aliens understand the words she teaches in order to avoid miscommunication.  

The theme of language can also be seen in how other nations communicate with their respective aliens and relay information to their allies. As Renner makes large strides in cracking the heptapods written language and thought process, which she believes to be non-linear and separate from time, other nations begin to withdraw as they begin to distrust the aliens when they (the heptapods) begin to bring up the word “weapon” into conversations. Dissenting opinions lead to an information blackout as nations disconnect from a live feed meant to unite all affected countries as they study the extraterrestrial visitors. Fearful of them, multiple nations prepare to launch attacks.

The most interesting element of the movie may to be the aliens true purpose for coming to Earth but the way their presence plays with Renner’s memories. As she struggles to find the best methods to talk to the heptapods, she recalls moments with her deceased daughter, focusing on ones that have to do with how a young child learns. It is only after the audience is introduced to the heptapods non-linear thought process and their ability to be guided by both past and future events, that we learn that Renner’s exposure to the heptapod language has given her the gift to see the future. Moments the audience perceived as memories, such as the birth and life of Renner’s daughter, are actually visions of the future. When Renner is able to grasp this, she finally understands how to stop the current fragmentation of international relationships and convey that the alien’s so-called weapon is actually the gift of this surreal language.

The DVD blue-ray introduces viewers to the process in which the intellectually based piece of fiction Story of Your Life, made it to the big screen. Extra features explore elements of the film such as casting choices, set design, costumes, musical ambiance and even the reasons certain colors were chosen for the film. Viewers will also be able to access a handbook dedicated to the heptapod species, including their anatomy, and a more in depth view of their language. While this edition doesn’t include deleted scenes, it does include detailed storyboards of scenes that made it to the movie and some that did not.

While delivering an amazing visual presence, the story is truly carried by the plot and characters, and the actor’s emotional performances. Some may be a bit disappointed between the underdeveloped romance between Renner and teammate Ian Dinnelly (Jeremy Renner) and the missed opportunities for her to bond with other team members, but viewers can find more fulfillment in the bonds forged between Renner and the heptapods, and the memories of her yet to be born child. The Blu-Ray dvd edition of Arrival is worth anyone’s while to purchase.

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