2016 – USA
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Words: C. Abbott
Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of the most consistently brilliant and interesting filmmakers working today.
Following the successes of Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, this could be his best work yet, perfectly capturing the fine art of Hollywood blockbuster entertainment and intellectual storytelling. Science-fiction is often a genre that is overly criticised, you can quickly become lost in the details of the accuracies and suspension of disbelief is necessary. Interstellar from recent memory suffered from this, and to varying degrees this was justified, but here Villeneuve delivers exactly what one would want – a thought provoking, riveting and engaging tale of humanity and the paradigm shifting nature first contact would inevitably have.
Linguist Dr Louse Banks (Amy Adams) is hired by the US military to translate the language of aliens that have landed across the globe. She is assisted by Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist and led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker); they have to answer just one question: why have they come to Earth?
There is a fascination with narratives such as this, what would happen? What would they be like? And as the tagline of the film states, why are they here? All this and more is answered and in a fulfilling and satisfying way.
You can realise the power and brilliance of a film when you’ve been sat for over an hour watching people struggle to communicate and be utterly enthralled with the proceedings. The story after all is one of communication and personal struggle.
From the very opening it becomes clear this isn’t the usual ‘alien invasion’ film, in fact it is something of an antithesis of Independence Day. The story is a personal one, centering on the Amy Adams’ character and her inner struggles. The genre of science-fiction, when used correctly, should be a tool in order to tell a story of humanity and human nature, this is just that. It is a puzzle, a lot of the plot elements will appear to be disconnected from the overall story at first, only being unlocked by the end. As one can see, this film invokes the spectres of many tales from the genre. The thematic elements align very much so with that of Solaris but there are calls to Contact and even the writings of Kurt Vonnegut.
The film has quite a distinctive visual style as well, cinematographer Bradford Young described it as “dirty Sci-fi” and that is an apt description. The look and feel is very naturalistic and tactile. This isn’t a maelstrom of carnage some might expect, it is in the same vein as District 9 – Sci-fi invading the real world.
Working with this is the astounding score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. It has an otherworldly quality to it, perfectly capturing that horror and awe an event such as this would bring shown in the track First Encounter. The strangeness and eerie quality of the aliens and the importance of communication is shown in Kangaru, a track that seems to call upon the opening of Under the Skin, when the alien in uttering sound and forming the words of our world.
Science-fiction such as this doesn’t come around often enough, residing with the likes of Moon and Under the Skin for recent gems from the genre. This is a film that stays with you, the questions it raises will circle around in your mind and it certainly reinstates why I love cinema.
With Villeneuve working on Blade Runner 2049, one can only feel the franchise is in safe hands.