Essays · Movies

Arrival and the Non-Killing Types of Alien Movies

By  · Published on August 9th, 2016

Hoping the day that we meet extraterrestrial lifeforms doesn’t end in humanity’s demise. Again.

What would happen if aliens visited this planet? According to films in 2016, most likely war. We’ve had three alien invasion movies so far this year: 10 Cloverfield Lane, The 5th Wave, and Independence Day: Resurgence. I’m guessing that of all extraterrestrial lifeform movies, 99.9% of them are about us killing each other. The only good aliens from this year ‐ and by good I mean the “non-insatiable human bloodlust” kind ‐ come from like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Star Trek Beyond, and even those do have the bad aliens ‐ and by bad I mean the “insatiable human bloodlust” kind. Our place among the dark vastness of the cosmos has aroused a many fearful philosophical musings and pragmatic game planning. But in the sea of action-oriented inspired dread shines a lighthouse of extraterrestrial optimism, and that film is Arrival.

Arrival is an upcoming sci-fi drama starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The film is based off of the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Much like how Lord of the Rings was a device for J.R.R. Tolkien to hone his linguist chops, it feels like Story of Your Life was inspired by linguistic relativity and a fun thought experiment on how we as humans would even begin to attempt a conversation with a much more advanced lifeform. It must be at least semi-interesting, because acquisition of the movie rights two years ago at Cannes was a festival record deal.

Much of the early buzz for this film evokes a Contact type experience more than anything, bolstered by comments from Jeremy Renner:

[The aliens are] not goofy creatures with guns who are going to kill us … [The movie is like] if you blended a Kubrick and a Spielberg movie [instead of a] big Michael Bay alien movie … it’s going to lean much more into a thinking person’s film.

I’m wondering if this is all just a clever ploy, however, and it actually isn’t some cuddly alien movie. I mean, Arrival is written by a guy known for crafting horror flicks and directed by a guy famous for incredibly tense thrillers. Yeah, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey showed artificial intelligence to be the real villain, not aliens, and Spielberg’s alien oeuvre contains angel-like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But, Kubrick also loved him some mad-trippy violence, and there’s War of the Worlds to help balance Spielberg’s killer yang to his hopeful yin. (Also, Renner said of his character, “I haven’t played a smart nerdy guy. I thought there was a great challenge in that.” Lol! He thought it was difficult to act smart. Just messin’, Jeremy.)

Crafting a narrative around the discovery of another sentient species out in the universe somewhere is overwhelmingly just beholden to the author’s imagination. The possibilities are innumerable. If you want your aliens to have four anuses and to communicate only through cartwheels, who’s to say that’s not what’s out there? I don’t understand why, within such a prodigious realm of story crafting, only the generic violence of human extinction is engendered. Boring. Been there, done that. Let’s hope with the arrival of Arrival, a new theme of alien-ness is brought with it.

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