(director: Denis Villeneuve; screenwriters: Eric Heisserer/based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life; cinematographer: Bradford Young; editor: Joe Walker; music: Johann Johannsson; cast: Amy Adams (Louise Banks), Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly), Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber), Michael Stuhlbarg (Agent Halpern), Mark O’Brien (Captain Marks), Tzi Ma (General Shang), Abigail Pniowsky (Hannah -8 yrs. old), Julia Scarlett Dan (Hannah -12 yrs. old); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde; Paramount; 2016)
“Villeneuve creates a solemn mood that crescendos to the less than chilling climax to see if the world can work together in unity during a dire emergency.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life, and the challenging script is by Eric Heisserer. The Quebec-born Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”/”Enemy”) dramatizes the sci-fi story with philosophical musings about our fear of the unknown and offers in great details a story about the power of communication. The agenda driven directing by Villeneuve creates a solemn mood that crescendos to the less than chilling climax to see if the world can work together in unity during a dire emergency. It’s sort of a fresh way to do an old-fashioned alien sci-fi film about saving the world. But Spielberg tried the same theme and did it better and with more humor in his 1977 “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which was his version of aliens as the good guys. Gigantic contact-lens-shaped spaceships land in 12 locations around the world. On board the extraterrestrials are called“heptapods,” for their seven long tentacles. In America, they land in rural Montana. All the earth governments are aware they could be hostile and try to find a way to communicate with the aliens who speak gibberish by squealing. American linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), with top security clearance from previous work with the government, is recruited by the U.S. military, in a visit by the gruff Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to make contact with the aliens. We learn in flashback that Louise’s husband died under mysterious circumstances and her perceptive only child Hannah (Abigail Pniowsky at 8 – Julia Scarlett Dan at 12) has died at 12 due to cancer. Things turn ugly when China and Russia refuse to share info on the creatures gathered by their respective experts, and China even threatens war with the aliens. Thereby Banks and her elite crew, which also includes the theoretic physics expert Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a nominal character, introduced into the story as Banks’ romantic interest, must find before time runs out a way to communicate or if not successful the world might be in peril. The aliens send out squid ink-like messages to Banks that when decoded tell us they only wish for peace. Knowing this, Banks finds a way to communicate a personal message to the bellicose Chinese general (Tzi Ma), the military head of the alien investigation, and when he changes his mind China then signs on for unity and peace. This is a monotonous film, one that takes its sticky meanings too seriously when they are only dealing with pseudo science.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2016 GRADE: B-