Film Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’

In space no-one can hear you philosophise…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride

Directed by:  Ridley Scott / Written by: John Logan and Dante Harper (story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green) / 122 minutes

What’s it about?

Diverting to investigate the origins of a mysterious signal, the crew of the colony ship Covenant are soon fighting for their lives against horrific and unstoppable creatures…

In review

In 2012, director Ridley Scott reawakened the dormant (some would even say stagnant) Alien franchise with Prometheus, a sort of quasi-prequel to the original 1979 classic that took place within that universe whilst charting its own course by exploring deep existential and philosophical themes concerning the origins of life and the horrific consequences of playing God.  Although divisive amongst fans of the iconic science fiction/horror series, the questions posited by Prometheus and a desire to correct some of its perceived shortcomings have lead to this latest instalment, Alien: Covenant, with mixed results acheived.

Picking up ten years after the close of Prometheus, we are introduced to the colony ship ‘Covenant’, whose core crewmembers are awakened prematurely in critical circumstances by on board synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender).  As vital repairs to the ship are attended to, the interception of a mysterious signal leads to the discovery of a nearby Earth-like planet that the crew believes may be a more idyllic site for colonisation than their original destination and an investigative course deviation warranted.  It’s needless to say from there that ‘paradise’ is ultimately not what it seems and harbours dark secrets that will turn the colonist’s hopes for a prosperous new life into a fight for survival.

Whilst Prometheus took strides to set itself apart from being a traditional Alien film (more an extension of the universe rather than a completely devoted tie-in or continuation of it), Covenant is unmistakably that, returning the series to its harder horror roots, with some twists on familiar elements as it works to further develop the Alien prequel story and continue discussions of life and creation.

For its first half, Covenant takes a slow, measured approach, allowing a steady build-up of intrigue and an ominous sense of foreboding before unleashing monstrosities – both new and old – upon the unsuspecting human players.  It’s as grisly and bloody an affair as director Scott has been teasing, the terror aided by a mix of classic Giger designs with the new ‘neomorph’ creature – a suitable evolution from the creations we saw in Prometheus.  It’s in the film’s second half where things start to derail and go awry as the script, despite lofty ambitions as it references Byron and Mary Shelley, falls victim to cliché and predictability as it begins to check off a grocery list of scenarios similar to what we’ve already seen before and not necessarily helped by lashings of fan service.  It culminates in some exciting but perhaps slightly misguided blockbuster CGI spectacle that attempts to meld Prometheus with Alien and Aliens, leading to a derivative finale that feels rushed and lacking in suspense.  There are also some questionable narrative choices along the way, particularly those concerning the origins of the alien ‘xenomorphs’ that may irk long term fans of the franchise especially considering that (much like Prometheus) it further demystifies Alien.

In terms of the cast, Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) does a decent job of portraying Daniels, another strong female character type who is actually something a little more than the mere Ripley-clone the marketing suggests.  Watchmen’s Billy Crudup is also great in a believable turn as Oram, the Covenant’s captain and man of faith, whose spirituality permits further exploration of the existential ponderings posed by Prometheus.  It’s also worth mentioning Danny McBride who proves to be another notable member of the cast – and certainly not comic relief – as the ship’s pilot, Tennessee.  However, Alien: Covenant really belongs to the excellent Michael Fassbender who excels in the dual role of android ‘synthetics’ Walter and David.  With a captivatingly subtle and nuanced performance (and an effortless switch between accents) he is arguably the film’s strongest draw.

Although the script for Covenant may be problematic, there’s no faulting Ridley Scott’s direction as he once again demonstrates his talent for world-building and the ability to present a visually astounding film by marrying beautiful and striking photography from its New Zealand locations with brilliant production design that’s only let down by a reduced emphasis on practical effects in the creature action.

Despite its flaws, Covenant is still an enjoyable enough addition to the Alien franchise.  It’s by no means its greatest instalment but there’s no doubt that Ridley Scott’s film is superior to Alien: Resurrection and Alien vs Predator albeit far from being on the same level as Alien and Aliens and is quite likely to prove as divisive as Prometheus.

The bottom line:  Hindered by predictability and a rushed finale, as well as controversial story choices, Alien: Covenant is carried by its arresting visuals and the performance of lead actor Michael Fassbender.

Alien: Covenant is in cinemas across the UK now and opens in the US and worldwide from 19th May.

alien covenant

It’s back: the iconic xenomorph returns to reign terror in ‘Alien: Covenant’.

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Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

Hail Hydra-Cap?

Written by:  Nick Spencer / pencilled by:  Steve McNiven

What’s it about?

Hydra has taken control with Steve Rogers as its leader…can the remnants of the superhero community prevail and restore hope before all is lost?

In review

Building on the prelude chapters in Secret Empire #0 and the Free Comic Book Day issue (and spilling out of the pages of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers series), Secret Empire #1 thrusts readers into the midst of Marvel’s latest comics event.  You’d be forgiven for finding the word “event” wearying, especially with the disappointment of Civil War II still lingering in the thoughts of many, but with this opening salvo and the shocking revelations of issue #0 it seems that writer Nick Spencer is stirring up a rich brew that will truly shake up the Marvel Universe.

As even the most casual comics reader will by now be aware, Secret Empire is the culmination of Hydra’s plans to seize control of the United States – and the free world beyond – with Steve Rogers’ Captain America as their leader.  The reveal of Rogers’ Hydra allegiance (thanks to some reality altering meddling via a sentient cosmic cube named Kobik – see the Avengers: Standoff crossover) way back in the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers caused significant controversy, with heavy ripples of discontent still reverberating throughout fan circles.  To see Marvel’s greatest patriot become a symbol of evil is understandably distressing and although Spencer has not been restrained in this regard, he has managed to construct a compelling arc that any true fan of comics should approach with an open mind.

With Secret Empire #1, Spencer keeps the controversy flowing as we skip ahead some months after issue #0 with citizens of the U.S. under the rule of Hydra and kept in check by Steve Rogers and his forces.  With the bulk of the superhero community either stranded in space battling endless hordes of Chituari or trapped beneath a Darkhold ‘bubble’ over Manhattan, it’s left to an underground resistance lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to plot Hydra’s downfall.  Whilst new readers will likely be lost (luckily Marvel have just published catch-up collection The Road to Secret Empire), having the story told mainly via the perspective of a young schoolboy named Rayshaun helps to ease us in without an overload of exposition as images of schoolchildren raising a ‘Hail Hydra’ immediately establish that there is an ominous shift in the Marvel U’s status quo.

What Spencer does with Steve Rogers is not to make him purely evil in a one dimensional sense, whilst he may not be the hero we’re familiar with there are layers to the characterisation as he paints a man who feels he is simply doing what is right in the circumstances of his altered history.  Despite the revelations of issue #0 as to the nature of these ‘alterations’ it’s unlikely that Marvel will facilitate a complete and permanent perversion of such a beloved and treasured character.

Secret Empire also has some definite parallels to the current political climate and tenuous international situations we see playing out in the news every day.  To Spencer’s credit it doesn’t feel totally overt or unnecessarily forced in the face of the reader but it’s there as much or as little as any individual might wish to read into it.

It might be dark and pessimistic stuff but there’s still a layer of hope and even fun as the younger, brighter Marvel heroes of the resistance, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Hulk and Riri Williams’ Ironheart take the share of the action and together with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing provide some much needed beats of humour and optimism.

Visually, Secret Empire #1 is solid albeit the usual sharpness and detail of Steve McNiven’s pencils are a little muddied by the dark, washed-out colours by Matthew Wilson.  It’s by no means as stunning as McNiven’s work on the original Civil War or Old Man Logan but decent enough and a good fit for the overall tone of the book.  It’ll be interesting to see how much consistency can be maintained with the rotation of numerous different artists on the nine issue series.

Controversies aside, Secret Empire is making for enjoyable reading and will surely pave the way for the hope and heroism promised by Marvel’s forthcoming Legacy initiative.

The bottom line:  A strong ‘start’ to yet another Marvel Comics event but one that builds on an already solid foundation as Nick Spencer presses forward with Hydra’s domination of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Empire #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Secret Empire #1

A new has risen as Marvel Comics event ‘Secret Empire’ commences (cover art by Mark Brooks).

Film Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

Marvel’s cosmic Avengers are back…

 Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell

Directed and Written by: James Gunn (based on the Marvel Comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning) / 116 minutes

What’s it about?

Falling foul of an alien society they were supposed to be working for, the Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves in deep trouble and thrust into an adventure where Peter Quill finally meets his father…

In review

Marvel’s rag-tag bunch of cosmic heroes return in the fun-filled and heartfelt sequel to 2014’s runaway hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Picking up a few months after their inaugural adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds the group, comprising Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and ‘Baby’ Groot being pursued by a squad of Ravagers, hired by a race called the Sovereign to take out the Guardians when a mission goes awry.  It’s during this cross-galaxy chase that Star-Lord comes face to face with his long lost father, ‘Ego’ – played by screen icon Kurt Russell.

If the first Guardians of the Galaxy was more concerned about introducing the various characters and the coming together of a team a la Avengers Assemble, then Vol. 2 goes a little deeper and more personal whilst still delivering the charm, laughs (in this instance a Marvel film where the humour is actually a welcome and natural component) and excitement audiences will expect.

As Peter Quill/Star-lord, Chris Pratt is once again the charismatic and heroic lead whose father issues and yearnings for Zoe Saldana’s Gamora form the backbone of the film’s emotional crux.  The casting of Kurt Russell (whose Tango & Cash co-star, Sylvester Stallone also appears) as Quill’s father is a real coup with a reliably great performance from the star of numerous hits from 80s cult classics Escape from New York and The Thing to more recent turns in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and goliath blockbuster The Fate of the Furious.  It’s a role made all the more enjoyable by a solid rapport with Pratt and the script’s satisfying character arcs.

Vin Diesel earns another easy payday as the cute youngling version of Groot (see the events of the last film) who together with the gun-toting mania of wisecracking space Raccoon, Rocket (a well-cast Bradley Cooper) and the hilarious and inappropriate perspectives of Dave Bautista’s Drax, especially in his interactions with Ego’s companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), facilitate the biggest laughs.

Complicating matters for the Guardians is the return of Michael Rooker’s Yondu who, having fallen out of favour with his fellow Ravagers, soon finds himself having to ally with Rocket and Groot in desperate circumstances.  Also back is Karen Gillan as Nebula – the ‘other’ daughter of galactic overlord (and mega villain of the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War) Thanos – whose adversarial relationship with Gamora is explored in greater detail, adding some nice dramatic weight that’s to the benefit of both Gillan and Saldana and their respective characters.

Writer and Director James Gunn infuses Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with the same enthusiasm and quirks for this second helping of fun space adventure that melds soulful and funky 70s tunes and influences of Star Wars and Flash Gordon with a good story brought to life via lavish, colourful visuals, equally colourful characters and rollicking action that still manages to excite despite culminating in the usual disaster-laden cataclysm of CGI doom.  The only real shortcomings arise from the early separation of the team that the script calls for and like the first Guardians there’s some sluggish pacing here and there and it perhaps feels a little overindulgent at times – but it’s mostly forgivable when the overall results are as entertaining as this.

The bottom line:  A fun, exciting and at times emotional blockbuster ride, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is bound to be another crowd-pleasing hit for Disney and Marvel Studios.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide from 5th May.

Guardians 2

They’re back! Marvel’s cosmic crusaders return in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ from Marvel Studios/Disney.

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #21

DC Comics’ greatest detectives open the casebook on the mysteries of the DCU’s Rebirth…

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / pencils and inks by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“The Button” Part One : Batman enlists the Flash to aid in his investigation into the mysterious smiley button found in the wall of the Batcave…

In review

Almost a year on from DC’s relaunch initiative under the now iconic (and for the most part creatively successful) Rebirth banner, one of its most tantalising mysteries is about to be explored in “The Button”, a four part crossover playing out across Batman and The Flash.

For this opening chapter, writer Tom King takes a simple and steady approach to a slowly unfolding narrative that spends a chunk of its page count depicting a violent brawl between Batman and a returning villain long thought dead.  If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t, as Tom King masterfully eases the reader in to a story that answers little about those lingering threads from Geoff Johns’ triumphant DC Universe Rebirth #1 but manages to remain non-the-less intriguing whilst setting the stage for what’s to come.  If there’s any concern at this point it’s that four issues may not be long enough for this particular arc, given the potential ramifications it may have for the overall DCU.

As regular DC Comics readers will know, DC Universe Rebirth #1 established a startling and enigmatic connection to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal masterwork Watchmen, the discovery of a certain blood-stained yellow smiley button embedded in the Batcave wall leaving the Dark Knight Detective with the promise of the most challenging investigation he’s likely ever to face.

Tom King (whose run on Batman is only getting stronger) makes good work out of a minimal narrative, throwing in a few shocks and surprises that help hold the reader’s interest through to a feverishly good cliffhanger.  King realises that the strengths of Batman #21 lie in its visuals – so thank the stars Jason Fabok is on hand to provide the art here.  Fabok has been sorely underutilised since Geoff Johns’ pre-Rebirth run on Justice League wrapped and it’s a real treat to see his meticulous, powerful and lavish layouts on show (Howard Porter will certainly need to up his game for The Flash issues), particularly during those pages in which Batman fights for survival against his opponent, whilst the Flash speeds his way through a fight of his own (King proving he has a good handle on the Scarlet Speedster in these moments as he dashes and quips his way through the action) before racing to the Batcave and into the heart of this mystery.

To say too much specific about Batman #21 would spoil the fun but it’s rewarding to see this story have ties to not only the DC Universe Rebirth special but also to DC’s earlier continuity twisting and New 52 birthing event, Flashpoint and of course, Watchmen, which King and Fabok pay homage to with some nifty panel construction that’s pleasingly reminiscent of that classic piece of work.  Although it may seem there’s little narrative progression in Batman #21, it’s via these connections that it actually offers far more than casual readers will appreciate but still provides enough visual thrills to keep any comics fan happy.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers an intriguing and surprising opening to “The Button”, made all the more enjoyable by the exciting visuals of the stellar Jason Fabok.

Batman #21 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Batman #21

Jason Fabok’s incredbile art adds to the excitement of DC’s ‘Batman’ #21.

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ S10 EP01 “The Pilot”

Guess Who’s back…

Starring:  Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

Written by:  Steven Moffat / Episodes directed by: Lawrence Gough / aired in the UK and U.S. :  15/04/2017

What’s it about?

Posing as a university lecturer, the Doctor’s path crosses with a promising new student and a mysterious threat…

Episode review

After an extended break, Doctor Who returns with its first full new series since 2015 (only Christmas special “The Return of Doctor Mysterio“ aired during 2016) uniting Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor with new companion Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie.

Doctor Who has always thrived on reinventing and refreshing itself and although this most successfully occurs with a change in lead actor – the Doctor regenerating into a new ‘version’ of himself – “The Pilot” feels, from the outset somewhat like a series with a renewed perspective.  Granted, series 9 of modern Who was generally strong but with the darkness surrounding the loss of Clara and the Doctor’s grappling with his own demons it’s welcome to see the show return to a lighter and purely adventurous tone.

Outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat (who departs along with Peter Capaldi this year) delivers a fairly simple script that’s in measures, fun, exciting, scary and peppers in just the right amount of detail to establish the lore and universe of Doctor Who for new viewers without bogging the episode down in its expansive and – in places – messy history (Moffat doesn’t forget the fans though by including some delightful Easter eggs).  Moffat’s basic ‘water monster’ plot is easy enough to follow – no ‘timey-wimey’ convolutions here – throwing in a number of behind-the-sofa scares amongst smatterings of cheeky humour and intrigue (what could be behind that mysterious vault beneath the university campus?).

Capaldi makes an assured return as the Doctor and once again excels in the role but it’s Pearl Mackie’s introduction that proves the most significant highlight in a wide-eyed and affable performance that keeps proceedings as grounded and believable as possible against the otherworldly alien-ness of the Doctor’s world.  Capaldi and Mackie hit it off right from the start, their dynamic solidified as Bill’s curiosity is rewarded with an invitation into the TARDIS (made all the more memorable by Bill’s longer than usual realisation of its true nature)…and a run-in with the Daleks for good measure!

Less fortunate is returning (from the 2015 and 2016 Christmas specials) companion Nardole, with Matt Lucas given little to do other than…well, just hang around really.  Yet, this episode is more about Bill and no doubt there will be more opportunities to explore Nardole as the series progresses and the relationship of the new TARDIS team develops.

If “The Pilot” is representative of the rest of the series then outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat should exit on a creative high, the closing ‘coming soon’ tease (classic Cybermen! Missy! John Simm! Regeneration!) certain to whet viewers’ appetites for the adventures that lie ahead.

The bottom line:  Doctor Who makes a welcome return with a promising new companion in a highly entertaining reintroduction to the series.

Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday evenings on BBC One.  US viewers can catch it on BBC America.

Doctor Who S10 prem

Read for new worlds and new adventures: the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) with the newest member of the TARDIS crew, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie).

What did you think of the ‘Doctor Who’ season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Flashback: ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’

Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, directs Star Trek’s

notorious fifth big screen adventure…

Star Trek V a

‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ – a flawed but fun adventure for the original crew…

Year:  1989

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill

Directed by:  William Shatner / Written by:  David Loughrey (Story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughrey)

What’s it about?

Spock’s estranged half-brother, Sybok hijacks the U.S.S. Enterprise to go in search of the fabled planet Sha Ka Ree…

Retrospective

It’s generally looked upon as the weakest of the original crew’s big screen voyages, but is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really all that bad?  With the critical and commercial success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 and the franchise entering a new golden era with the launch of television series Star Trek: The Next Generation it would have been fair to say that the odds were already stacked against Star Trek V, in whatever form it would take.  With Leonard Nimoy having helmed Star Treks III and IV it would be William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair and although the results would be less successful with the production being hindered by budgetary woes and script and story issues, The Final Frontier does have its moments.

The story of The Final Frontier sees an undermanned and malfunctioning U.S.S. Enterprise despatched to Nimbus III – dubbed “The Planet of Galactic Peace” – where Spock’s long lost half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken envoys of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan governments hostage.  Using his Vulcan telepathy to ‘influence’ individuals into joining his cause, Sybok succeeds in commandeering the Enterprise and taking her crew on a voyage to the mythical planet ‘Sha Ka Ree’…where he believes God himself resides!  Adding to the tension is the eager commander of a Klingon vessel out to prove himself (Captain Klaa, played by Todd Bryant) by relentlessly pursuing the Enterprise, in the hopes of engaging her captain in battle.

It all sounds a little hokey, but with the revelations of the film’s final act it all comes together like a fairly entertaining episode of 1960s Star Trek.  Although the finished film lacks the complexity, nuance and real-world commentary writer/director Nicholas Meyer would infuse into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Final Frontier is still an imaginative and fun science fiction adventure carried by the beloved characters of the original Star Trek, especially the central troika of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy and the performances by their respective actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.  Principal cast aside, one of the film’s biggest assets is guest star Laurence Luckinbill who brings both strength and passion to the role of Sybok, an outcast of Vulcan society who has shunned their traditions in repression of emotion and an adherence to logic above all else.

It’s been well documented that Shatner’s original vision for The Final Frontier was far more elaborate and, perhaps, daring than what eventually appeared on screen.  Most notably, a diminished budget meant a finale in which Kirk was to be pursued by monstrous rock creatures (a sequence preserved in the pages of the DC Comics adaptation) would not be possible.  There were also some major script changes, facilitated in part by concerns from Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley about how Spock and McCoy would be portrayed in the film, both particularly startled by an earlier draft of the story which had Spock and McCoy also falling under Sybok’s influence and turning on Kirk along with the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Some of Shatner’s concepts certainly work, particularly the concept of “the Planet of Galactic Peace” – a well-intentioned, yet failed experiment in co-operation between seemingly implacable enemies.  The very notion of Sybok and his ‘crusade’ is also allegorical of religious extremism, an element watered down likely at the behest of Paramount Pictures but still has some presence in the completed version of the film.  Working with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett on the problematic narrative, David Loughrey’s screenplay does a respectable job in focusing the disparate elements into a reasonably cohesive and entertaining adventure that gives all of the Star Trek crew moments to shine with strokes of humour that’s as enjoyable as some of The Voyage Home’s funniest moments.

One of the film’s biggest drawbacks is in its visual effects, which generally fall below the quality of previous instalments.  With legendary effects house ILM stretched by their commitments on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, the film’s visuals were undertaken by a smaller, less established effects company and lack the overall punch of what was seen in prior Star Trek films, made all the more noticeable by the inclusion of stock footage from The Voyage Home.  It’s a shame because if ILM had been available it would have improved The Final Frontier, especially those sequences in which the Enterprise traverses the ‘Great Barrier’ where the effects work is adequate but clearly weaker and far less impressive than ILM’s work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a decade earlier!  Luckily, the production design by The Next Generation’s Herman Zimmerman is decent with the trashy, decaying aesthetic of Nimbus III’s ‘Paradise City’ aiding greatly in the sort of gritty Western feel Shatner strived for.  The bridge of the newly commissioned Enterprise-A is also a highlight, brightly lit and with advanced touch screen displays on show, it’s slightly reminiscent of the set of J.J. Abrams’ films as opposed to the subdued and submarine like styling Nicholas Meyer would employ for The Undiscovered Country.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score also proves to be a successful component, mixing themes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with new material to enrich key moments of excitement, awe and mystery.

In the end Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is by no means the strongest entry in the series, mainly due to disappointing special effects work and the dilution of the stronger themes William Shatner sought to explore.  Yet, viewed with an appreciation for the original Star Trek series and affection for its cast of characters there’s a certain level of enjoyment to be had.

Geek fact!

The role of Sybok was originally intended for Sean Connery, ‘Sha Ka Ree’ being derived from his name.

Star Trek V d

In search of “the ultimae knowledge”: Kirk, Sybok, Spock and McCoy reach the Final Frontier…

Film Review: ‘Arrival’

Denis Villeneuve delivers a slice of remarkable science fiction cinema 

that’s far from being a typical blockbuster…

_

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma

Directed by:  Denis Villeneuve / Written by:  Eric Heisserer (adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang)

What’s it about?

When strange alien vessels appear around the Earth, linguist Louise Banks is called upon by the U.S. Military to try and communicate with the mysterious visitors…

In review

Wowed by critics and earning a respectable box office gross on its theatrical run late last year, director Denis Villeneuve’s intelligent and mesmerising sci-fi mystery has far more in common with the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar than more straight forward, crowd-pleasing (but generally enjoyable on their own merits) alien invasion blockbusters such as Independence Day.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Arrival (not to be confused with the Charlie Sheen starring bargain-bin 1996 B-movie The Arrival) is beautifully acted, hauntingly realised and thought provoking with its intellectually challenging and mind-bending hard SF concepts that shuns the more generic, formulaic and predictable tropes that all too often afflict the genre.

Arrival concerns the mysterious appearance of twelve pebble-like extra-terrestrial vessels around the globe and the efforts to form a means of communication with the alien visitors and discover their intentions and purpose for coming to Earth.  Heading up the central cast is Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics expert enlisted by the military to board the alien ‘shell’ floating above the United States.  Sorely overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards, Adams delivers a powerhouse performance that subtly yet believably conveys the intellect and emotional strife of her character.  Supporting Adams is Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, a role that demonstrates his ability to stretch beyond the action-star heroics of the Mission: Impossible and Avengers franchises.  Completing the central core of characters is Forest Whitaker in a suitably authoritative turn as Colonel Weber.

Avoiding cliché, Arrival depicts the reaction of the global governments, their military solutions, the awe of the scientific community and the escalating panic of the world’s population with a laudable degree of realism and plausibility, presenting a painfully true reflection upon the world as it stands today.

Earning plaudits for his work on Sicario, Denis Villeneuve – currently putting the finishing touches to Blade Runner 2049 – brings strokes of arthouse cinema to Arrival whilst maintaining a focus on the principal cast, keeping the overall experience dazzling and captivating via Bradford Young’s incredible cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s wonderfully atmospheric and immersive music score (embellished by the film’s inspired audio design), skilfully ratcheting up the tension as the final act satisfyingly unfolds.

Sure to be revered as a modern science fiction classic in the years to come, at its heart and beneath heady intellectual ideas, Arrival contains messages about communication and understanding that expresses a sense of hope, even in the face of darkness.

The bottom line:  Haunting, beautifully constructed and simply mesmerising, Arrival is a wondrous piece of intellectual SF cinema that’s masterfully directed and superbly acted.

Arrival is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats now.

Arrival

Preparing to make contact: Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve’s captivating sci-fi mystery ‘Arrival’.