Aliens plop down on earth. Humans wonder what the aliens want. What do they want? How do humans know? This is the conundrum created by many a science fiction movie and at the heart of the excellent new film that’s generating Oscar buzz, though little attention otherwise, Arrival.
There are a set number of possible options for an Alien Landing plot, many of which have formed the core famous and infamous science fiction premises. Often, the aliens mean harm or pretend to be nice but then mean harm OR some are nice but are fighting with others who mean harm. So getting eaten/enslaved/destroyed is a fairly likely occurrence. But then, how do humans know? Someone has to ask, and how do you speak to an alien?
As most movies are aimed at the lucrative 13-15 year old boy market, many Alien Landing plots involve the shoot first variety. If you google “Alien Invasion,” you can even see the top twenty or thirty of these movie types. But Arrival is about the communication process itself. Since there is such a huge possibility that the aliens still might have nefarious intent, the armies surround the aliens and point guns at them. You can’t help but marvel at the stupid efficiency of the American army as it erects tents and hazmat facilities and communication centers without the slightest clue of whether any of that will be helpful. (Turns out most of it is not). They at least have the sense to bring in Amy Adams, who plays linguist Dr. Louise Banks, to bridge the communication gap.