Our film expert Tim Oxley Smith looks ahead to the winter blockbuster, Arrival, and how this could be the sci-fi movie you've been looking for. 

After a cluster of big budget sci-fi movies of late, it felt like Arrival’s timing was a bit off. Did we need another? We’ve already had Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian all attempting to bridge the gap between science and fiction in the hope of drawing a broader audience. Less blowing-up worlds - more finding your place in them. These heavyweight directors of Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott in part succeeded in bringing outer space a little closer more people. But after watching Arrival, it seems like there’s always room for more. So enter director Denis Villeneuve. Cooler, smarter, Arrival looks as good as Gravity, feels more believable than Interstellar and outdoes The Martian’s humanity.  

What’s it about

Adapted from Ted Chiang’s novel Story of Your Life,  it kicks off with 12 mysterious vessels landing in different locations across the globe. So begins the human population's desperate search to understand why they’re here. Linguistics professor Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked by Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) of the US army to make contact with a craft hovering over the plains of Montana, and suss it out.

This all sounds like pretty standard sci-fi, doesn’t it? Well remember that we live on planet Earth and humans are mental. As today’s media begins to drum up fear around what their presence could mean, the world’s military powers, with missiles locked and loaded, are getting twitchy...   

Releasing five films in as many years (including Blade Runner 2049 due for release next year - eek!), Arrival continues to show director Denis Villeneuve’s taste for a darker shade of Hollywood. Even the most apathetic viewer will be moved by this examination of the world's reaction to extraterrestrials. Unsurprisingly, mankind doesn’t come off all that well.

Like any science fiction film, it’s legitimacy will get called into question, but as far as I can tell, Arrival’s science and linguistics mumbo-jumbo seem feasible. Then again, I know nothing about the finer details of the universe. This,  in stark contrast to Nolan’s Interstellar with its fanciful take of intergalactic time travel, goes to show that even though Christopher Nolan wears a cravat, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s that smart.

Arrival's success owes itself to the director’s touch of class and great source material. Amy Adams’ performance subtly humanises a lost spirit of our times - when you add this to a beautiful score enjoyed on the booming sound quality at Cinema De Lux in Cabot Circus, it’s a perfect and considerably less annoying alternative if you think JK Rowling’s beasts don’t look all that fantastic.

After the movie, you might want to discuss the complexities of nonlinear time. We think the Volunteer Tavern just over the road is a good shout.