Film, Science fiction
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(23user reviews)
Amy Adams in Arrival
Jan Thijsby Paramount Pictures
Jan Thijsby Paramount Pictures

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Aliens come to earth in this smart – but not smart enough – slice of modern sci-fi

'Sicario' director Denis Villeneuve's colour-drained, mournful sci-fi drama 'Arrival' plays like a more mainstream filmmaker got his hands on Jonathan Glazer's experimental alien masterpiece 'Under the Skin' and added moments of international intrigue, hints of romance, memories of past grief and shots of soldiers stomping about just in case the heady avant-garde stuff all got too much. There are plenty of smart ideas and bravura visuals in this maudlin, ponderous and slightly ridiculous tale of aliens coming to Earth, adapted from a Ted Chiang short story. But to enjoy the film's arresting musings on language, time and how much we can ever understand others, you'll have to close your eyes and ears to the wealth of schlocky hokum surrounding them.

An ambiguous, moody prologue layered with Jóhann Jóhannsson's Michael Nyman-esque score begs us to take 'Arrival' seriously long before there's any talk of heptapods. Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams, strong and sombre) is alone in a lakeside house with only images of her past life for company: she once raised and lost a daughter. Then the sci-fi kicks in: alien pods are hovering above several sites around the globe, and the US government hauls in Louise, who is a top linguist, and a theoretical scientist (Jeremy Renner, a bit of a spare part) to help them to understand what's going on. Their mission is to enter these creatures' giant egg-shaped craft and to discover what the pair of seven-legged uglies inside want and what they're doing in a field in Montana.

You might roll your eyes when Forest Whitaker's army colonel explains to Louise that it's her past experience translating Farsi that made her perfect for this project. Do aliens and Iranians share a linguistic heritage? That aside, the scenes of Louise and co entering the alien pod and meeting the inhabitants are strong on spooky tension and the production design is especially stellar, all of which bodes well for Villeneuve's upcoming 'Blade Runner' sequel.

When the film lingers on Louise's attempts to 'translate' the language of her new extraterrestrial friends (there are nods to 'ET'), it's strange, gripping stuff that does what great sci-fi should: offers new perspectives on our own world. Villeneuve also has a show-stopping reveal up his sleeve that revives our interest in the film late on. But much of 'Arrival' focuses on baser stuff – ticking bombs, rolling TV news commentary, social breakdown as window-dressing – and in those moments it feels caught between a brainless big-budget movie and a smaller, much more thoughtful one.


Release details

Release date:
Friday November 11 2016
116 mins

Cast and crew

Denis Villeneuve
Eric Heisserer
Amy Adams
Jeremy Renner
Forest Whitaker

Users say (23)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:13
  • 3 star:5
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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1 of 1 found helpful

The reference to farsi is relevant because Amy Adam's character had recently translated some secret communications for the military. To do so she needed a high ranking security clearance.  In SF, governments typically treat all contact with aliens to be a security threat.  They might also consider that if they learn something that one of the other governments did not, they would like to keep that a secret.  Therefore, her still active security clearance, in a very pressing moment, gave her character an advantage over someone new as it takes a considerable amount of time to vet someone's background for a security clearance. 

1 of 1 found helpful

At first glance from the trailer, this film seems to be about 12 giant Minstrels that land on their sides in various places around the world.  A task force is sent in to try and communicate with the aliens on the giant Minstrels, which they do so by deciphering coffee cup stains.  If you go and watch this film, I recommend taking a pack of Minstrels with you, as watching it does make you fancy some Minstrels.

The film starts off quite slowly and jumps back and forwards in time, leaving a bit of confusion as to which bit is which.  The two main characters are part of a task force sent up into the space ship to try and communicate with the aliens.  Part of the story is a typical battle between those that automatically want to destroy the aliens and those that want to try and befriend them, but it becomes more than that.  There is also an interesting twist to the story, not revealed until nearly the end, which puts an interesting take on it.

I did find it a bit far fetched, them learning the whole language from a few splodges, then I thought to myself - this is a film about aliens, stop thinking too hard about the plausibility of it and just enjoy the story.  I did enjoy it and can see it being a contender for Oscars in some way or other.  My son also saw it and said it was one of his favourite films, particularly liking the film score.

We were lucky enough to go to the Premiere of this film at the iconic Odeon Leicester Square as part of the BFI London Film Festival. 


This was a beautifully shot film and it had an interesting storyline. I did feel the pace was a bit slow in places and it could have been condensed down. To me the twist wasn't that dramatic so the pay off sticking the film out wasn't worth it. It did have a good cast and it was good to see Amy Adams do a serious role. I liked how a film about aliens for once wasn't about taking over the world, however this wasn't pacey enough for me. 


I enjoyed Arrival, it has a lot of interesting ideas. It took me a little while to adjust, because I went in expecting a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. This is more of an indie film given a larger than usual budget. Once I had realised that and changed my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

The story is good, both deep and positive. The lead character is a little two dimensional, but beautifully acted by Amy Adams. The direction is fantastic, Denis Villeneuve has the confidence to make it very slow and deliberate, unusual in the sci-fi genre. The cinematography is lovely and the soundtrack is exceptional. Everything about this film is high quality.

It was nominated for 8 Oscars including best movie and appears in many best of year lists for 2016, deservedly so.


A big fan of the sci-fi genre I'm a fan of anything a bit different from the usual actions and this is one of them! The sound editing and visuals really complimented the tone of the movie and Amy Adams was spectacular in her role, I really can't imagine anyone else playing this role they way she did.

If you want a big shoot-em-up style aliens creatures coming to get us type movie, this really isn't one of those. But if you like though-provoking pieces that encourage you to think outside the box and question your own ideas of meanings, then for sure check this out.


I really enjoyed his film but mainly because Amy Adams acted the s*** out of her character - she was so damn good! Her acting is the best thing about this movie in my opinion - and I mean that in a good way. Aside from Amy's acting, the movie is good but not quite what you expect. It wasn't your typical sci-fi movie, it seemed to be much more about the (human) character development than the alien unknown. It was slightly lacking in action...but it's not *really* an action film. It's like a watered down version of a sci-fi but with added drama. So as long as you're not expected awesome fight scenes or crazy special effects, then the film is a good watch.


Such an interesting movie!! 

For once having a science fiction movie focusing on a language specialist (Louise Banks played by Amy Adams) instead of a scientist was such a clever idea! (And no worries, you still find in Arrival all the sci-fi characteristics and vibe)

By finding a way to understand the Alien language, Louise will access a new approach of time. Even though this is when it all gets complicated in the movie, I couldn't find any big inconsistency, which I thought was pretty good news!!

Another great aspect of the movie is the Alien lettering, really nicely done both in the process (how it's created by the Aliens) and visually (big ink circles floating in the air).


I have been looking forward to seeing this movie as I'm a fan of broody sci-fi that casts intrigue and tension on the situation and characters. This one sees an alien race the humans label Heptapods descending upon earth in shell-like ships that hover over a number of different countries over the Earth. It's mainly about one thing, cracking the code of their language. Why are they here? What do they want? Are they here for war or peace? It's a tad disjointed at times and if you study it hard you'll find some of the logical leaps a bit too hard to swallow, but what this film does do very well is tug at the heart strings. I for one was a little teary at the start and very teary at the end!


I am not a great sci-fi fan and was pleasantly surprised to have my attention held. Real people most of the time and heptapods some of the time is probably what swung it for me.We moved around in time and mastered a novel language. Hope, unity, fracture, working together and falling apart, linguistics and physicists. Amy Adams was the linguistically talented mother with some psychic ability. Flashing backwards and forwards in time, the story all came together eventually even if the pace could have been a little faster at times.


I liked this movie, it was smart and thoughtful. But massively confusing with plot holes. I won't go into the major plot hole as it is a big spoiler. However it is a nice change to usual sci if.


It's great to see a sci-fi/extra-terrestrial film without (a lot of) wars, lasers and loads of special effects that will quickly turn into white noise.

Loved the story and it has an amazing cast led by an amazing Amy Adam’s


An entertaining sci-fi movie that centers on linguistics, which you can't say very often. It's a stirring film pleading for unity and understanding, even if the plot falls apart a bit if you think too hard about it.


I didnt love it as much as I wanted to but it is beautifully shot and Amy Adams is a complete dream. 

The plot gets very complicated and confusing in points and I spent about 15 minutes wondering what the hell was going on. But after discussing the film with a few friends it began to fall into place and it did have some interesting themes and thoughts on the way we live our lives. 

I think its worth seeing but maybe not at the cinema! 


Way too many plot-holes in this film... I don't understand the general positivity towards this film. Really pleased that TO gave it 3 stars, but way too many reviewers giving it 5; truly don't understand why... okay, there are plot-holes, one expects a degree of belief to be suspended, that's fine. But basic, basic stuff that could easily have been filled in with a 30 second bit of exposition. 

I wanted it to be good, I wanted to enjoy it. But I was left wanting a lot more basic information; they made too many jumps and each jump wrenched me out of the universe they were building. I know that neither we nor they want to show every day that passes and I am a big fan of the montage to move on the story but it just ended up leaving me barren. 

I thought this film was very clever, though a slow burner, it was interesting to see a more intellectual take on what form extraterrestrial life may take - rather than simply a humanoid looking figure messed around with using face makeup.  I did think this film went on little too long, however I did think the ending was very intriguing and overall definitely worth a watch.


The movie is amazing. I felt like applauding when the credits rolled at the end, and so did a few other viewers in the cinema, of the more emotional variety. Dennis Villeneuve is an outstanding cinematographer. I know what I'm talking about - I'm in film business. His frames and angles should be studied. And then also the acting. Amy Adams is amazing (ok, I always knew that), but so are the supporting cast. It's mind blowing how Villeneuve tackles various genres (I mean, have you seen Sicario and Prisoners) but the genre never distracts from the character study. Amy is totally and utterly believable as a tormented (or is it blessed?) linguist and mother who surrenders herself to fate, and time, and space, and how they are all one and the same. Without giving away the plot, let me just say the movie will leave you pondering and reconsidering all the things you've just seen as it all comes beautifully together at the end.

I really enjoyed this film a lot, probably more than Interstellar because I found it more involving and accessible. Great performance by Amy Adams and good support by Renner and Whitaker. Ambitious ideas but connected to people and emotions. Really imaginative concept of Aliens and how we might react to them. Always enjoyable but thoughtful and quite demanding of your brain, unlike many I have seen recently.


I'm always a little sceptical about films based on the extra-terrestrial (apart from E.T. of course), but this one seemed to have more of a thought provoking element similar to how Inception made you question every part of the film after the film, which actually made it very interesting! The pace was perfect, I wasn't sat hoping for a bit hurry along, but I just sadly felt that the ending was a little abrupt. This may just be that I prefer films with endings that leave me feeling satisfied with how things were tied up or the overall message, which was very open to interpretation in this case. Nonetheless, I would recommend people go to see arrival!

I wish Dave Calhoun didn't take himself so seriously. As TO's readers on  this page have said, this film is far better than DC makes out.  It was a very interesting exploration of alien contact around the globe and the disharmony that breaks out when a united front isn't shown by all.  Amy Adams was really good, and ditto Jeremy Renner.  Both very convincing performances.

For someone who likes movies, I've felt this year hasn't been a great year for them, but this is definitely an exception.  Go see.

There's a really interesting movie trying to get out here that is lyrical, thought-provoking and touching - but the rather derivative plot is just too slow and ponderous. I found myself yawning on several occasions. Worth seeing but as a piece of cinema it just didn't do it for me.

A beautiful film! The film follows the arrival of extraterrestrial structures on earth and the complications of communicating with the non human beings that inhabit them. Visually the film is very beautiful. Photography, composition and special effects come together effortlessly. The story unfolds in a calm, melancholic rhythm in which the music, landscapes and emotions experienced by the main characters in the film make the audience create a strong emotional bond with the story. At times the film's nostalgic tone reminded me of Terrence Malik's films. Slight hints at Tarkovsky's Solaris also came to mind. I found the film's subject of the exploration of language and how it influences our understanding of ourselves and the word around us very refreshing, not to mention that it is an enormously rich subject for a science fiction film. This is not another clichèd 3D-explosions-science-fiction-buster. Rather, it is a beautifully crafted, moving exploration of human language and identity. Definitely recommended.

I agree about the Farsi/alien language connection, that was very odd and not properly explained, but the film was otherwise an interesting and stimulating journey through the construction of language and the meanings between words, both written and aural. 4/5 stars - definitely worth seeing, but this ain't no Star Trek folks! For more from me:

0 of 1 found helpful

I am so excited for this once!!! I hope it is what "Contact" was!