Ever since Metropolis, a great Hollywood mainstay has been aliens from another planet. There are films like ET, Men In Black or Super8 that see it naively with a child’s perspective. There are the sinister visitations such as Independence Day or War Of The Worlds which have a more apocalyptic, threatening feel. And there are those films that inspire awe with the transcendentalism of two alien species, the human being one. And it is this category, along with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Contact that this film belongs. Indeed I was convinced this film would be very similar to the latter.
It’s concept was straight forward. Weird shaped pods appear in a dozen places around the world. The reaction of humankind everywhere is the usual Smörgåsbord of cliches – panic, awe, looting, macho gun-ho-ness and hippy acceptance. Basically everything that was covered in Morons From Outer Space. But luckily the film doesn’t dwell too much on that. Instead our protagonist is an ex-mother Louise Banks (Amy Adams), haunted by the premature death of her daughter from cancer (not a spoiler, we find out in the first 5 minutes of the film) and who has since lost herself in her work as a universal languages expert. She is commandeered by the US army, along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to meet the aliens and decipher what they want.
And despite the film developing into complex dimensions beyond our mortal understandings, it doesn’t loose its audience, unlike Contact, and that’s what makes it enjoyable. Indeed director Denis Villeneuve takes us on what feels like an educational and exciting journey without, if you’ll pardon the pun, alienating his audience. The result leaves you with a satisfying feeling that you somehow partook in the venture yourself and doesn’t leave you feeling baffled and shortchanged. Villeneuve is up for Best Director on the 26th Feb – the nomination is worthy though I doubt he’ll win given his competition and lack of buzz about the film generally.
If I had to be critical I would pick out Forest Whitaker who, for a Hollywood name, brought little to a role that could easily have gone to a lesser known actor.