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Arrival is already a strong contender for the best science fiction film of 2016

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It could redeem this summer’s weak slate of movies

In a year of high-profile science fiction blockbusters, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival could be a welcome breath of fresh air. The latest from the director of moody thrillers like Sicario and Prisoners, it follows a linguist (Amy Adams), who is tasked with helping to communicate with a recent arrival of extraterrestrial beings.

Hot on the heels of the first trailer, Sony’s released an international trailer that shows off a little more of what we can expect:

After a disappointing summer for blockbuster genre fare (let’s never speak of Independence Day: Resurgence ever again) Arrival is definitely courting fans of more thoughtful sci-fi films like Ex Machina, Gravity, or Interstellar.

A handful of reasons to get excited for this movie:

It’s based on a short novella by one of the greatest living science fiction authors

You probably haven’t heard of Ted Chiang, and that’s a shame. The author of the 1998 short story Story of Your Life, which Arrival is based on, is relatively unknown outside of the science fiction community, but he’s been churning out critically adored work for almost three decades. Chiang’s first published story, 1990’s The Tower of Babylon, earned him nominations for the Locus and Hugo and a Nebula award for Best Novelette. Since then, just about every story that he’s published has been nominated for a major award. 1991’s Understand earned him a nomination for a Hugo and Locus award while he earned the 1992 Campbell award for Best New Writer. He won the Hugo Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novelette for Hell is the Absence of God, and his brilliant 2010 novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects earned him the Hugo, Locus, and Seiun Awards.

Despite this incredible record, Chiang has only published a handful of stories since 1990 — just about one every couple of years. Most of his short stories have been collected into a single volume, Stories of your Life and Others, which was recently rereleased this year from Vintage Books.

The Story of your Life is widely considered to be one of the best works of science fiction to be published in recent decades

Ever since its publication in the 1998 anthology Starlight 2, the story has been considered a modern classic. It earned the Nebula Award in 2000 and was nominated for the Hugo Award in the same year. It was reprinted in all of the year’s roundup anthologies that highlight the best work published each year, and has popped up in a bunch of anthologies since, including Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction.

It’s not your straightforward "first contact" story

Every couple of years, there’s a blockbuster alien invasion / visitation / first contact movie — War of the Worlds; Battle: Los Angeles; Edge of Tomorrow; Independence Day: Resurgence. They all have some things in common: aliens arrive, and humanity goes out and blows them up.

Arrival begins with an Earth that’s visited by an alien civilization, but that’s where the similarities appear to end. As mentioned above, Adams’ character is a linguist — and the primary interaction between her and the aliens is communicative, not combative. The original novella framed its story around the emotional bond between mother and child, while at the same time taking a look at how language and communications inform one’s perception of reality. If this carries over into Arrival, it will make for a markedly unique big-budget alien film.

It’s has a fantastic crew behind it

Arrival is an exciting move for Villeneuve, who has been directing some really intriguing thrillers in the last couple of years. His 2013 films Enemies and Prisoners were excellent, while last year’s Sicario earned a considerable amount of acclaim and awards attention. Still, those films were decidedly earthbound, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches this more interplanetary material. And it could tell us a lot about what to expect from his Blade Runner sequel, which is slated for release in October of 2017. He’s got a great cast to work with as well, including Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.

On top of all that, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who is responsible for the great, brooding score for Sicario, also composed Arrival’s soundtrack.

Arrival will arrive in theaters on November 11th.


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