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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Denis Villeneuve|
|Screenplay by||Eric Heisserer|
|Based on||"Story of Your Life"
by Ted Chiang
|Music by||Jóhann Jóhannsson|
|Edited by||Joe Walker|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures (US)
Sony Pictures Releasing (International)
|Box office||$203.4 million|
Arrival is a 2016 American science fiction drama film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. It stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, and follows linguist Louise Banks, who is enlisted by the U.S. Army to help translate communications from one of several extraterrestrial craft that have appeared across the world. She must find out why they have arrived on Earth before tensions lead into war. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2016, and was released in the United States on November 11, 2016, in IMAX by Paramount Pictures.
The film grossed $203 million worldwide and received widespread critical acclaim, including praise for Adams's performance, Villeneuve's direction, and its exploration of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. Considered one of the best films of 2016, Arrival appeared on numerous critics' best films lists, and was selected by the American Film Institute as one of ten Movies of the Year. It received eight nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, ultimately winning one award for Best Sound Editing. It also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress for Adams and Best Original Score for Jóhann Jóhannsson, and was awarded the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2017.
An introductory sequence shows linguist Louise Banks's daughter Hannah, who dies in early adulthood from an incurable illness.
Twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft appear at twelve locations across Earth. A U.S. Army officer, Colonel Weber, recruits Louise and physicist Ian Donnelly to find out why they have come. He takes them to an army encampment in Montana near one of the craft. On board, Louise and Ian make contact with two seven-limbed aliens, whom they call "heptapods"; Ian nicknames them Abbott and Costello. Louise and Ian begin researching their written language of complicated circular symbols. As Louise studies the language, she starts to have visions of her daughter Hannah.
When Louise is able to ask why the aliens have come, they answer "offer weapon". However, China translates this as "use weapon", prompting them to break off communications, and other nations follow. Louise argues that the symbol interpreted as "weapon" might mean "tool", and that China's translation results from the competitive nature of their interaction with the aliens.
Rogue soldiers plant a bomb in the craft. Unaware, Louise and Ian re-enter, and the aliens give them an extremely complex message. Just before the bomb explodes, one of the aliens ejects Ian and Louise from the craft, knocking them unconscious. When they reawaken, the military is preparing to evacuate, and the craft has moved out of reach. Ian discovers that the symbol for time is present throughout the message, and that the writing occupies exactly one-twelfth of the space in which it is projected. Louise suggests that the full message is split among the twelve craft and that the aliens want all the nations to share what they learn.
China's General Shang issues an ultimatum to the aliens, demanding that they leave within 24 hours; Russia, Pakistan, and Sudan follow suit. Louise goes alone to the craft and it sends down a shuttle to transport her inside. The alien explains that they have come to help humanity, for in 3,000 years they will need humanity's help in return, and the "weapon" is their language, which opens time to allow the future to be foreseen. Louise's visions of her daughter are premonitions.
Louise returns to the camp as it is being evacuated, and tells Ian that the alien language is the "weapon"; those who master it are able to perceive the future and past. She has a premonition of a United Nations event, in which Shang thanks her for having convinced him to call off the attack by calling his private number and reciting his wife's dying words. In the present, Louise steals a satellite phone, calls the number, and recites the words. The Chinese announce they are standing down and release their twelfth of the message. The other countries follow suit, and the craft disappear.
During the evacuation of the camp, Ian expresses his love for Louise. They talk about life choices and whether he would change them if he could see the future. Louise knows that she will agree to have a child with him despite knowing their fate: that Hannah will die, and Ian will leave them after she reveals that she knew this.
Villeneuve had wanted to make a science fiction film for some time, although he "never found the right thing". Meanwhile, screenwriter Eric Heisserer had unsuccessfully been pitching an adaptation of Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" for years, and by the time producers Dan Cohen and Dan Levine approached him about a potential sci-fi project, he had largely given up on the idea. Cohen and Levine, however, introduced Villeneuve to the novella, which the director immediately took to, although his work on Prisoners meant that he did not have the time to properly adapt it into a screenplay. Cohen and Levine completed a first draft, which Villeneuve reworked into the final script. Villeneuve changed the title, as he felt the original title sounded like a romantic comedy and that the script had become very different from the short story. Although Villeneuve went through "hundreds" of possible titles, Arrival was the first one the team suggested.
Heisserer said that earlier versions of the script had a different ending: the gift from the heptapods was to have been "blueprints to an interstellar ship, like an ark of sorts", to enable humanity to help them in 3,000 years. But after the release of Interstellar in 2014, Heisserer and Villeneuve agreed that this would not work, and decided that the heptapods' gift would be what was "there in front of us ... the power of their language".
Jeremy Renner joined the film on March 6, 2015, to play a physics professor. Forest Whitaker signed on in April 2015, with Michael Stuhlbarg joining as CIA Agent Halpern that June. Linguistics professor Dr. Jessica Coon was brought on to consult with Amy Adams.
Principal photography lasted for 56 days, commencing on June 7, 2015 after Renner had finished on Captain America: Civil War. The shooting was done mainly in and around Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with St. Fabien-sur-Mer serving as Montana. The team took some time to find the right site to represent the landing, because producers wanted to avoid a mountainous site that might dwarf the scale of the ship, but thought that a barren location would be clichéd. Most of the filming that did not involve the exterior of a ship was done indoors on stages, although a real house was used as Louise's home. The scenes of the university where Louise teaches were shot at the HEC Montréal.
The film uses a script designed by the artist Martine Bertrand (wife of the production designer Patrice Vermette), based on the scriptwriter's original concept. Computer scientists Stephen and Christopher Wolfram analysed it to provide the basis for Louise's work in the film. Three linguists from McGill University were consulted. The sound files for the alien language were created with consultation from Morgan Sonderegger, a phonetics expert. Lisa Travis was consulted for set design during the construction of the protagonist's workplaces. Jessica Coon, a Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages, was consulted for her linguistics expertise during review of the script. Heisserer said at the Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest premiere at the end of September 2016 that Shang's wife's last words, translated into English, were "In war, there are no winners, only widows". Villeneuve decided not to include subtitles for the line; Heisserer said he would have preferred it not be kept secret, and was happy to reveal the translation.
Jóhann Jóhannsson began writing the score as shooting started, drawing on the screenplay and concept art for inspiration. He developed one of the main themes in the first week using vocals and experimental piano loops.
Max Richter's piece "On the Nature of Daylight" is featured in the film's opening and closing scenes. Due to the prominent use of Richter's music in the final film, Jóhannsson's score was deemed ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, with the rationale being that voters would be influenced by the use of pre-existing music when judging the merits of the score. The soundtrack was released by Deutsche Grammophon on November 11, 2016. All music was composed by Jóhannsson.
A teaser trailer was released in August 2016, followed the next week by the first official trailer. Paramount Pictures released a series of promotional posters, with one showing a UFO hovering above a Hong Kong skyline that included Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower. The inaccuracy angered Hong Kong social media users. The posters were withdrawn and a statement attributed the inaccuracy to a third party vendor.
In May 2014, Paramount acquired the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights. Shortly after, Sony Pictures Releasing International and Stage 6 Films acquired some international distribution rights. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2016. It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and the BFI London Film Festival. The film was released on November 11, 2016.
Arrival grossed $100.5 million in the United States and Canada and $102.8 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $203.3 million, against a production budget of $47 million.
Arrival was released alongside Almost Christmas and Shut In, and was originally expected to gross around $17 million from 2,317 theaters in its opening weekend, with the studio projecting a more conservative debut of $12–15 million. The film made $1.4 million from Thursday night previews at 1,944 theaters and $9.4 million on its first day, pushing projections up to $24 million. It ended up grossing $24.1 million over the weekend, finishing third at the box office. In its second weekend, the film grossed $12.1 million (a drop of 49.6%), and in its third made $11.5 million (dropping just 5.6%). Following receiving its eight Oscar nominations, the film returned to 1,221 theaters on January 27, 2017 (an increase of 1,041 from the week before) and grossed $1.5 million (up 357.4% from its previous week's $321,411).
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 326 reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Arrival delivers a must-see experience for fans of thinking person's sci-fi that anchors its heady themes with genuinely affecting emotion and a terrific performance from Amy Adams." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Brian Tallerico, from RogerEbert.com, gave the film three out of four: "It's a movie designed to simultaneously challenge viewers, move them and get them talking. For the most part, it succeeds." At Time.com, Sam Lansky described it as "sophisticated, grownup sci-fi: a movie about aliens for people who don't like movies about aliens." IGN reviewer Chris Tilly gave it a score of 8.5 out of 10, saying: "Arrival is a language lesson masquerading as a blockbuster, though much more entertaining than that sounds...it's smart, sophisticated sci-fi that asks BIG questions, and does a pretty good job of answering them."
Film critic Robbie Collin gave Arrival five out of five, calling it: "introspective, philosophical and existentially inclined – yet it unfolds in an unwavering tenor of chest-tightening excitement. And there is a mid-film revelation – less a sudden twist than sleek unwinding of everything you think you know – that feels, when it hits you, like your seat is tipping back."
The Guardian rated it as the third-best film of 2016. Critic Catherine Shoard said that it "amounts to something transcendent; something to reignite your excitement for cinema, for life." Numerous other publications, including io9, Den of Geek, WhatCulture, Mir Fantastiki, The Atlantic, Blastr, and Digital Trends named Arrival the best movie of 2016.
Rex Reed, writing for the New York Observer, gave the film one out of four, calling it Villeneuve's "latest exercise in pretentious poopery"  and referring to a lack of action in the storyline.
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