If there is alien life out there, what will our first encounters with them be like?  How will we communicate with them?  And how will both individuals and nations react to the unknown?  These are some of the issues addressed in Arrival, a very thoughtful science fiction film.

The movie opens with linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) remembering her daughter Hannah, from her birth to sad death as a teenager.  After that, she's teaching a class when it's interrupted by world-shaking news: aliens have landed on Earth, with 1500' oval ships landing at 12 locations on Earth.  And Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Dr. Banks to communicate with the aliens.
Louise is taken to the Montana location, where an alien ship is hovering above the ground.  Unfortunately, no attempts to decipher the alien sounds have been successful.  Fortunately, every 18 hours a hatch opens, allowing humans to enter the ship.  While physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) tries to figure out the properties of the aliens and their ship, Louise decides to focus not on speaking with them, but rather teaching them our written language.  The aliens -- giant squid-like creatures with seven legs, floating in a white fog behind a barrier -- respond with their own language: a series of circular symbols.
While Loiuse and Ian work on figuring out why the aliens are here, pressure is building around the world.  Some populations riot in wake of the aliens' arrival.  China is leading a push to respond the aliens with military force.  And some of the Montana soldiers are ready to use violence...
Arrival is more measured than much science fiction -- there are no laser beams, aerial battles with spaceships, or creatures wandering among humans -- and that's both a strength and a weakness: This is one of cinema's most realistic approaches to first contact with alien life, but it also means at times watching people work on translations can get boring.  Amy Adams is fine as the professional who has to work on what could be the most important translation in human history while dealing with her personal devastating loss; and the rest of the cast is more or less just there.  The aliens are nicely otherworldly and mysterious, and there's a plot twist and concept that may not be fully satisfying but is unexpected.  Arrival is a solid movie about what happens when life from other world finally reaches us.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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