Movie Review: Arrival

Ted Chiang holds a unique place in science-fiction. He only sporadically publishes anything, usually in the form of a long story or a short novella. When he does it’s an event, and the work generally gets nominated for or wins a major award.

Most of his written work defies obvious cinematic adaptation. I naturally felt surprise when I learned that the Nebula and Sturgeon-winning “Story of Your Life” would become a film.

Title: Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Adapted from the story by Ted Chiang.

Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks
Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly
Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber
Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern
Carmela Nossa Guizzo, Abigail Pniowsky, Jadyn Malone, and Julia Scarlett Dan as Hannah
Mark O’Brien as Captain Marks
Tzi Ma as General Shang
Ruth Chiang as Chinese Scientist
Anana Rydvald as Danish Scientist
Leisa Reid as Nurse
Russell Yuen as Chinese Scientist


Aliens arrive on earth, and just sort of hang around while we try to talk to them. Major breakthroughs get made by a brilliant linguist whose understanding of her daughter’s life has been affected by her encounter with these creatures.

Low Points

“Story of Your Life” may be slow in places, but it gets into the reader’s head, and you feel your perspective shifting into something that is almost an alien point of view. In order to make something that would suit the medium and still maintain a semblance of the source material, the filmmakers have added widespread panic, military overreaction, and aliens with a clear, comprehensible goal. The departure from key story points do not consistently work….

High Point:

Arrival nevertheless works on its own terms, without entirely losing sight of its source. The heptapods are alien, and neither look nor think like us. And the story’s essential twist, while not as mind-altering as in the source material, remains, at least, thought-provoking.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The movie is based on an existing story. Nevertheless, if Hollywood has served up many alien encounters, none have been much like this one. Chiang wrote a story about aliens, relationships, time, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Give Villeneuve and company kudos for even trying to make this film.

Effects: 6/6 The effects serve the story; they’re effective without becoming conspicuous. The film has been beautifully shot and, unlike certain other recent genre films in which Amy Adams appears, the darkness and dim lighting are on point.

Acting: 6/6 Acting is generally strong, and Amy Adams gives a restrained yet emotionally resonant performance.

Production: 5/6

Story: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6 Changes notwithstanding, Arrival remains one of the most cerebral SF films of recent years.

And we need, more than ever, encouragement to push at our mental limitations, and think.

In total, Arrival receives 35/42