Have you heard of Arrival? It’s a forthcoming science fiction movie about a first contact situation on earth, and the more I read about it the more curious I get.
The story is based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella “Story of Your Life,” adapted to screen by Eric Heisserer and directed by Denis Villeneuve. Chiang won both the Nebula and Sturgeon Awards with it.
The main interest for me is that Dr. Louise Banks, the character played by Amy Adams, is a linguist. Since we don’t generally get much screen time, it’s exciting, as is having languages / linguistics as a story focus. There’s also a little bit of Nordic involvement: the score is by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
The first official trailer is looking great:
Arrival Trailer #1 (2016) – Paramount Pictures by Paramount Pictures
I love the fact that for a change the UFO that lands in the U.S. touches down in Montana, not New Frigging York City. That horse is thoroughly, properly dead, ladies and gentlemen of Hollywood. Thank you for not going there.
Judging by the trailer, the movie also avoids one of my pet peeves. It looks like finding a way to communicate with the aliens is going to take a lot of effort and a good, long while. We get glimpses of various graphics on computer screens, but it’s clear that the bulk of the work consists of human effort assisted by computers. In other words, people are doing the actual analyzing while computers number-crunch. Compare it, for instance, with the mothership scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (a clip of the scene here). As fascinating as the tonal-color language is, I’m so disappointed with the perfunctory and hand-wavy treatment the linguistic mystery got. I do hope that the Arrival trailer is accurate in acknowledging the effort that not only communication but of all kinds of intellectual work require.
And it may indeed be: The USA Today sneak peek quotes the male lead Jeremy Renner: “It’s big and there are thriller elements and tension, but it’s going to lean much more into a thinking person’s film.” There are also hints that Adams’ character will begin dreaming in the aliens’ language, which is a phenomenon I find fascinating. (I sometimes dream in multiple languages. The highest count I can remember is four.)
I discovered one interesting factoid. In the U.S. trailer, Dr. Banks can be heard commenting on the emerging common language like this: “We need to make sure that they [aliens] understand the difference between a weapon and a tool. Language is messy, and sometimes one can be both.”
The international trailer suggests a different story angle, however. Have a look:
ARRIVAL – International Trailer (HD) via Sony Pictures Entertainment
In it, instead of “[w]e need to make sure that they understand,” Dr. Banks says: “We don’t know if they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool [my emphasis].”
I don’t know what to make of the decision, and I can’t wait to see which one the movie actually goes with. Fortunately I don’t have that long to wait: the U.S. release date is November 11, 2016.
On, of, and about languages.