I just watched this critically acclaimed film and have to admit that I was highly disappointed. The central plot line is something that really appealed to me, as to how the world might react if spaceships were to suddenly arrive on Earth. What would the extra-terrestrials look like? What might their intentions be towards us? How could we communicate to find out? What science and technology do they have that enables them to overcome the massive barriers to interplanetary, let alone interstellar, travel that we face? This is a topic that is a staple of science-fiction writers, in classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
This film focuses mainly on the problems posed by the communication barrier. It seems to be insurmountable and how an expert linguist (played by Amy Adams) might approach this problem is interesting to see. But the key that unlocks this mystery and enables her to converse with them appears suddenly out of nowhere and with little explanation. I also found the way that the time dimension was treated, with the mixing of the past, present, and future, to be unconvincing.
These flaws could be compensated for by strong performances but I found those by the three main characters played by Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker to be curiously flat, with Whitaker particularly delivering all his lines in a mumbled monotone with an accent that was hard to understand. The members of the supporting cast were also weak, especially the guy who thinks that the work of Adams and Renner to understand the visitors is a waste of time and is convinced that we are at war not only with the visitors but also is hostile to the Russian and Chinese governments. The direction also seemed plodding.
There was also the annoying appearance of a familiar science-fiction cliché that is routine with films about visiting extra-terrestrials, and that is the decision taken by somebody on Earth that the visitors must have hostile intentions and that we need to attack and destroy the spaceship. Really? You have clear evidence of beings that have a vastly superior science and technology to our own, that can appear and disappear out of the air and can communicate by means that we cannot detect, and can even counter gravity, and you think that they would not be able to defend themselves against our puny weaponry, let alone unleash a devastating counter-attack? It should be clear to the meanest intelligence that the best option is negotiations. They clearly don’t need us but we could learn a lot from them.
But as I said, the critics seem to love it and it is up for eight Academy Awards, including best film and best director, so I am clearly an outlier in being unimpressed.
Here’s the trailer.