This sure was a different kind of alien movie. The premise is this: twelve alien ships have landed all over the world, and the big question is: are they friend or foe?
To learn this the humans don't mindlessly attack like they tend to do in these movies. Instead they send linguistics professor Louise Banks into the alien ship, to interpret the language of the apparent alien visitors so that they may communicate with them.
She's part of a bigger team, though, and of course there's more to the story than just that (and the mindless attack comes later), but the topic of language is nice and new, and the focus of the film being the very fundamental one of communication between races makes it both relevant and really unusual, even if it's odd how the aliens never seem to have trouble interpreting the human language, and as such shouldn't have that much trouble teaching the humans theirs. But loopholes: there's always some.
The main cast consists of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (that guy is really getting a lot of screen time lately), with a little Forest Whitaker and Tzi Ma, and others. The cast is great. The location is desolate, but then again the location's not all that important: the ship is, and the ship is great. Aesthetically it takes on an appreciatively minimalist approach, without all the technological mumbojumbo these movies are usually packed with. It's all filmed in what seems like only natural light, and comes across a bit dark, though this also makes it feel authentic, albeit also a bit dull. What more to say? The script's simple but strong, the characters are strong, and the tension is strong as well, with a certain uncertainty always hanging around the crew, and a pressure to understand as soon as possible. The natural light seems to enhance all of this.
I wonder if there's an actual pattern to the basis of the language in the movie. Can it be read? Is it all random? Of course it can't be so complex we see the future if we learn it, but I wonder if the patterns are intentional. I mean: if there are patterns, or if it's just ink clots, and at most different clots that mean different things. Compared to your regular run-off-the-UFO sci-fi thriller it seems creatively complex, but I assume that's just how they make it look, like how rotating the camera can skew your sense of gravity, when I assume there's just a green screen at the end of the tunnel showing the ground seen from up and down.
About the language though, here's a pretty interesting article about it from a real linguists point of view. I'd love to see some behind-the-scenes about the language in particular - maybe someday! For now, Google is packed with intriguing contemplations for those looking for more.
To conclude: it's an alien movie about communication, and the world in general. It starts with peaceful intent, though social tension is high and war soon looms. Work is arduous, and progress needs to move fast. They capture that well. The tiredness. The challenge. The tension, and the human factor. It all feels real... or at least as much as it can with something so alien. It's a good movie: a Sci-fi thriller with a little love. It feels like a bleak world, but the intensity comes across, and it seems to tell us something about our future.
Oh, and I learned some new terms, like the non-zero-sum-game (win/win), and re-learned others. I hope this inspires.
rated 4/5: fo shizzle