Wednesday 16 November 2016


I first saw a trailer for Arrival a few months ago and was very keen to watch it as soon as I could, see: Its release date was after the election so I knew it wouldn't contain any presidential propaganda of the kind I've been talking about, see: As always, I avoided reading any reviews until I'd seen the film myself so I wouldn't be biased. I ended up going to see it with two of my UFO/conspiracy/paranormal friends who were just as intrigued by it as I was. Last Monday I travelled all the way to London's West End and bought tickets at a retro-themed cinema and bar/restaurant near Leicester Square. It was designed to look and feel like a 1920's picture palace, an effect that was well thought out by its architects. Arrival is a science fiction film about aliens unexpectedly and suddenly landing on earth without invitation. It is by the Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and based on a short story by Ted Chiang. The alien invasion has become a common movie scenario and films of the genre vary enormously in technical quality and intellectual content. Arrival is unusual for the trope because I think it would appeal to people who might not normally enjoy sci-fi. Anybody with an interest in language would probably like the film because the central theme of the story is linguistics. The makers of this film have thought long and hard; and done a lot of research on the subject.

There is a single protagonist called Dr Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, who is one of the world's leading linguistics experts. When a fleet of extraterrestrial spacecraft land on the earth she is recruited by the government to help them decipher the language coming from the aliens inside them who are trying to communicate with humans. The film makes one think about how an intelligent extraterrestrial species would speak. Most science fiction from the past gave little thought to this matter. Aliens tended to look like ex-American footballers... mostly because that's who their actors were, with blue beards and green eye-contacts who roar incoherencies about revenge being a dish best served cold etc. Real extraterrestrials would have a completely different psychology to us. They would look, communicate and act in ways that might well make no sense to us. They might even be completely beyond our understanding. Indeed research into alien abduction is revealing this very problem. The issues raised in this film have a lot of relevance for astronomers in the SETI- "Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence" programme and also people who analyze crop circles. We don't need to go off-planet to realize this either. Scientists involved in animal psychology studies say the same thing. In fact anybody who has a dog will sometimes be mystified by the behaviour of their pet. "Why is he doing that?" He knows because he's a dog; we're not dogs so we don't. Obviously humans do things dogs cannot comprehend either. Arrival brings up this vital point; that translation is about more than just decoding language when dealing with a different species. As that great hospital porter... and occasional part-time philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote: "If a lion could speak we still could not understand him." He would have enjoyed Arrival. Different ways of speaking involve different ways of thinking. This is why the powers-that-shouldn't-be pay so much attention to language. They whittle and mould it into ways that suit them, as George Orwell detailed in his book 1984. There are other features of the film that show clever conceptualizing and a very fertile imagination. It breaks from sci-fi norms in the nature of the spacecraft. They are huge crescent-shaped vessels nicknamed "shells" by the humans. They have a distinctly ceramic texture to them, as if they are carved flying mountains. The aliens have clearly invented antigravity and not just in the propulsion system of the vessel. The interior also has its own gravitational environment. The outer door on the underside leads to a long vertical corridor, also appearing to be made of stone. The humans who enter the vehicle use a cherry-picker to hoist them inside, but once there they can walk because of an artificial gravitational field at right angles to the earth's. Arrival also examines the concept of time being non-linear. This is a complex subject and I did not understand this element of the film completely, but it relates to Louise's memories of her past and how they change as she learns more and more of the alien language. David Icke has also explored the idea of "time loops" and even titled one of his books Tales from the Time Loop. The BBC TV series Doctor Who also sometimes delves into this idea. Arrival is very vivid and uses similar techniques as Paul Davids' Roswell movie to generate a fly-on-the-wall sensation in the viewer. There are lots of shots from a hand-held moving camera that made me feel I was really there. This kind of effect is best enjoyed at the cinema and can't be fully reproduced on TV, so do go and see it on the big screen while you can. The way the public react to the alien landing is very plausible; it's the kind of notion I've had to mull over when writing my own story, Roswell Rising- a Novel of Disclosure. The score is also highly unusual. It has vocals on many of the tracks, but these are just random syllables, a bit like old jazz scat singing. Maybe that's how human languages sound to aliens. There are many spooky tunes as well that are used on the wide angle shots of the spacecraft. All in all, this is a fascinating movie, an alien invasion flick with a huge difference. It's not often these days that Hollywood produces a really great standalone sci-fi movie; one that's not a remake, part of a series or an adaptation from some comic book or computer game. Highly recommended.

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