Reviews are in as Montreal-shot ‘Arrival’ debuts in Venice

Pop Goes The News — Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival had its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival — and it’s getting generally good reviews.

Based on the 1998 short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the film follows a linguist (Amy Adams) and physicist (Jeremy Renner) recruited by a U.S. Army colonel (Forest Whitaker) to investigate 12 spacecrafts that have landed on earth.

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter praised “the class, intelligence and cool visual style” of Arrival.

“How refreshing to watch an alien contact movie in which no cities are destroyed or monuments toppled, and no adversarial squabbling distracts the human team from the challenges of their complex interspecies encounter,” he opined in a review posted Thursday.

“This is a grownup sci-fi drama that sustains fear and tension while striking affecting chords on love and loss.”

He added: “Villeneuve’s film asserts its place among far more nuanced interplanetary explorations such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact and the more ponderous (and far less humanistic) Interstellar, as well as in a venerable tradition of cerebral literary sci-fi.”

David Sexton of The Evening Standard wrote: “Compellingly made, this is science fiction of substance — even if, in the end, it takes us back to our own earthbound hopes and sorrows.”

Arrival, which was filmed in Montreal last summer, is scheduled for wide release on Nov. 11. Its Venice debut will be followed by a Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 12.

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Villeneuve is the Québécois who directed such acclaimed films as Prisoners and Sicario and is currently working on the Blade Runner sequel starring Canada’s Ryan Gosling.

Written by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), Arrival was co-produced by Montreal-born director Shawn Levy.

The movie is packed with Canadian talent behind-the-scenes, including the work of Quebec’s Hybride and MELS visual effects studios.

Producers also enlisted McGill University linguistics professor Jessica Coon as a consultant to Adams’ character, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks.

Owen Gleiberman of Variety zeroed in on the linguistic elements of the film.

“As intriguing as the alien language is (a cross between hieroglyphs and smoke signals), the way that Louise actually starts to comprehend it is murky and abstract,” he wrote.

“The movie plays off the notion that if you learn a new language, it can rewire the way you think. The alien language offers such a kick of rewiring that it actually alters the nature of time.

“The audience’s reaction to this is likely to fall somehow on the spectrum between ‘Whoa’ and ‘Huh?’ In Arrival, it’s a muddled idea, intriguing but not really developed.”

Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph wrote: “In a seemingly offhand conversation at base camp, Louise tells Ian about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a (real) linguistic theory that suggests the structure of a language shapes and even limits the knowledge and beliefs of anyone who uses it.

“The full significance of this takes time to bloom, but Arrival’s ideas about language are reflected in its own storytelling methods in ways far too smart to spoil, and which result in a mid-film realisation – less sudden twist than sinuous unwinding – that forces you to reinterpret everything you’ve seen.”