I've said it several times, there are few films as entertaining as a science fiction thriller. When properly executed, it proposes a futuristic idea then wraps it in anticipation before distorting reality. It's one of the reasons "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (1951) has endured.


When you first watch the trailer for Denis Villeneuve's latest film "Arrival", you are tempted to assume it is much like Robert Zemekis' "Contact" (1997) with Jodie Foster and Matt McConaughey; you wouldn't be too far off except Villenueve presents a much more cerebral narrative.


Every alien contact film since "The Day The Earth Stood Still" has built the story from or around attempts to communicate with the lifeforce. "War of the Worlds" and "Independence Day" have aliens make feeble attempts before annihilation of the humans. Others came with warnings and others try to communicate words of peace and love as in "Close Encounters". From time to time the aliens are smart enough to grasp our various languages.

Villenueve's adaptation of Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" follows the path of "Close Encounters" without all the lunacy and special effects that Spielberg added. It's greatest effect is the ability to force you to follow the clues and the seemingly familiar subplot.


As with "Independence Day" the film opens with aliens ships appearing in various parts of the world floating on end much like the space probe from "Star Trek: The Voyage Home". Sci-fi fans will immediately wonder if the aliens are strategically aligning themselves for a unified global attack or searching for humpback whales.


Showing surprising restraint for humans, the military, led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists the interpretive skills of linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and numerologist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They are under the gun to figure out how to communicate withe the squid like Hectapods who communicate with circular symbols emitted like octopus ink.

The drama is limited to the logical analytic procedures used by Banks to translate words from gestures, meanings and shapes. Her only encumbrance are the mental flashes she has of her daughter who life and death is both explained and unexplained.


Adding to the tension is the growing concern that the Russians and Chinese may open fire on their respective visitors thus causing complete world destruction. Much like the 1960's Soviet/United States Space Race; which country will make the translating breakthrough first.


Adams is terrific as a very convincing professional filled with awe, curiosity and fear. She represents the strong female inserted into a male domain who must fly by wire to prove her worth, just as Emily Blunt did in 2015s "Sicario". Whitaker slips comfortably into his militarily efficient role with his usual convincing style.


Nothing, including the circular communication symbols feels new or unique; perhaps concepts borrowed from other films. But the help of superb acting guides it along into

race against time in more ways than you realize. Much like "Interstellar" you will arrive at a very cool "Aha!" moment when you and Dr Banks to the same conclusion.


"Arrival" is an outstanding cerebral sci-fi thriller that exercises your brain as you follow along translating the messages that the aliens present until you arrive at the message: Cult Classic.   -- GEOFF BURTON