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'Arrival' Looks Like It Will Make Up for a Lousy Year for Sci-Fi Movies

If your idea of great science fiction is 'Blade Runner,' 'Gattaca,' or '2001: A Space Odyssey,' then 'Arrival' should be a treat.
August 16, 2016, 3:41pm

This year has been a fairly disappointing year for science-fiction films. Independence Day: Resurgence garnered a dreadful 32 percent at Rotten Tomatoes; the much-hyped Ghostbusters and Star Trek: Beyond were rated better yet have had fairly middling box-office performances; and the less said about the "dark and gritty" ongoing trash heap that is the DC cinematic universe, the better. But sci-fi cinema lovers still have at least one very promising movie to look forward to: Arrival, whose full trailer dropped Tuesday.

Unlike those dull reboots and sequels, Arrival promises to offer something new for moviegoers. The film, directed by Sicario's Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by the science-fiction writer Ted Chiang. Until now, Chiang has been largely unknown outside of the SF world, but in that world, he is legendary.

While his career spans only a handful of short stories, Chiang has won multiple Nebulas, Hugos, and Locus Awards. Although Chiang has been publishing since the 90s, he is such a meticulous craftsman that he averages less than a short story a year. He's published one collection—Stories of Your Life and Others—yet the book has been published multiple times by multiple publishers. It was originally published by Tor Books, then reprinted by Small Beer Press, and this year will be published yet again by Vintage. And the collection deserves that unique attention. It is simply one of the greatest science-fiction story collections ever published.

Chiang's work is both very literary and very serious about science. Chiang deeply explores scientific concepts while crafting emotionally moving characters and narratives. The story Arrival is based on follows a linguistics expert (played in the film by Amy Adams) who is hired by the military to try and communicate with a race of radially symmetrical aliens who appear on Earth. As she slowly learns their truly alien form of communication, the narrative is woven with her memories of her daughter's life. Flexing spacemen shooting at green Martians with lasers this is not.

After Arrival, Villeneuve will be directing Blade Runner 2, which should give you an idea what tradition this film will be in. This is cerebral science fiction coupled with gorgeous and atmospheric cinematography. If your idea of great sci-fi is Blade Runner, Gattaca, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, then Arrival should be a treat this November.

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