The movie “The Arrival” is a biographic of a still young but maturing academic with a passion and flair for language and the arcane specialty of symbols used for communication. Previously she eked out a meager living with a paucity of interested students and a bare minimum of research grants in return for occasional service on obscure government advisory boards.
All of this changes in a heartbeat with the arrival of twelve alien space ships which land at scattered locations around the world. Her staid existence is dramatically disrupted as a panicky government frantically tries to assemble quick reaction teams of academics and military types. A humdrum life at an out-of-the-way college gives way to midnight helicopter rides to armed camps rapidly forming to surround the alien vessels.
In the attendant confusion, an astute military searches for a means of communication by assembling unlikely combinations of specialists in an attempt to break through the logjam of alien inscrutability. Imaginative special effects abound as humans are invited into the spaceship for face to face encounters. Apparently the aliens are nothing less than giant squids mercifully obscured behind ever shifting clouds of mist and who converse in foghorn voices compete with helpfully high pitched staccato clicks. But when this verbal communication fails, the aliens produce circular splats of ink on a separating glass wall at which point our heroine begins to come into her own. She painstakingly builds a dictionary of alien words with a minimum of assistance from supporting cast.
The plot skillfully juxtaposes the sense of alien intentions between that of subtle menace and as benefactors attempting to save mankind from itself. The uncertainty is all the more heightened as the initially unified human response changes from cooperation to thoughts of defensive first strikes against the aliens and their potential human allies.
It is at this point that the staging and film editing dissolve the story line into a meaningless and interminable succession of personal flashbacks involving the heroine. Misfortune follows unexpected and out of joint misfortune interspaced with intense moments of fleeting happiness. Those who manage to stay awake are finally rewarded with the realization that these are visions of future events gifted as a consequence of learning the alien language. We also discover that the lackadaisical friendship with her male physicist companion will eventually evolve into thoughts of marriage in possibly the most unromantic depiction of romance on the wide screen yet.
The final resolution occurs in a rush with a last second phone call from the heroine to the Chairman of the Chinese Central Committee on his private number with personal information sufficient to impress him with the veracity of her understanding that the aliens mean no harm. World war is cancelled. Apparently the aliens, in return for their gift to humans of being able to know their own future, expect to receive unspecified help from humanity in the future. And so somehow in the future, the aliens will tell the Chairman to show his number to the heroine so she can use it in the past. Makes perfect sense for those who still really care and haven’t at this point completely tuned out.
In an attempt to cover the lameness of the presentation, the movie casts the heroine’s quandry, as to whether to marry her associate knowing all the future joys and disappointments, as being marvelously dramatic. That might have been true if there had been any real development of that thought before the very end in the movie, but unfortunately there was not.
On the other hand, I personally enjoyed the movie immensely. But then I am a sucker for sci-fi situations and have a lifelong crush on Amy Adams who again gave her best.