Sunday, November 20, 2016

Closer Encounters This Time Around

The recent trailers for the new film Arrival generated some real interest for me, but I could not help noticing the parallels with the classic Spielberg sci-fi epic often referred to now as CE3K. I found myself wondering - with the myriad of alien visitation films that have come out in recent decades, has it really been 40 years since anyone has done it like this again? Let's note some of the common elements...

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  • A story of a first encounter with an alien race that focuses mostly on the human impact and experience rather than on the aliens themselves or on any complex plot line.
  • The human impact is profound and life changing.
  • The governments of the world are involved and (initially) working together.
  • The aliens are much more advanced than us but have benevolent intentions
  • The primary struggle is in finding a means of communication which turns out to be radically different from our own written symbols.
Of course, the story is definitely original with a lot more elements involved, but I experienced just a slight twinge of nostalgia, enough to give the film a chance despite the huge scientific believability gaps. You would think that would put a film like 1997's Contact ahead of it, but I never once thought to connect that film with CE3K. Carl Sagan took a much more scientific approach to the topic.

Below the line are some of my thoughts on the positive and negative story elements.

=================== huge spoilers now ===================

I believe one of the well executed threads was illustrating the process of trying to communicate with a completely foreign entity, as seen through the eyes of a linguistic expert. That's one of the few items that felt like real science fiction - the kind that makes you think about what it might actually take. In fact, I hear that the book on which it was based is heavy on linguistic theory. It was also refreshing to see aliens depicted that were quite different from us physically and environmentally, although on the behavior side they tended to mimic several types of Earth bound animals.

Unfortunately the most crucial revelations were based on some rather ridiculous notions. Seeing into the future is philosophically difficult already, but to suggest that learning a new language could bring about that capability is nonsense. And of course they make the usual mistake when it comes to the time travel twist, which is if she saved the world from missing out on the technology by getting information from the future, why is the future portrayed as if she doesn't know she ever did it in the past? And what are consequences of humanity obtaining an ability to see into the future worldwide? These questions are not addressed because they don't support the focus of the story, which is primarily on the main character's life and some type of message about nations working together.

All that said, I was surprised at how the time flew given the slow pace of the film, so perhaps that was the main point - the telling of a story. The book on which it is based is called Story of Your Life. And maybe that is really the main connection that it shares with Spielberg's 1977 classic. I'd welcome any other thoughts on that note.