Arrival: The Bradscribe Review

What Is The Purpose Of This Movie?

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“The premise is that aliens are landing in places that make no sense, and nothing is happening. The world is freaking out… I love that” – Denis Villeneuve.

“I was in love with the exaggeration of reality or exploration of the world from a different point of view, which is science fiction” explains Denis Villeneuve.

When the French-Canadian director admits that “it’s tough to find good science fiction material,” at least he has tried – and succeeded – to rectify this matter in the intriguing form of Arrival, the sort of thought-provoking SF that rarely gets the big-screen treatment.

Based on Ted Chiang’s novella: “Story of Your Life” – a “highly scientific, not inherently cinematic” work – twelve massive, shell-shaped spacecraft appear in the most unlikeliest locations around the world. And the race is on to find out What They Want.

On a university campus, comparative linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks, (played by Amy Adams)realises that constant low-flying jets and a collision in the car park signify that this is turning out to be no ordinary day.  

After learning about the Breaking News of the Century – strangely enough on an HD TV, not via smartphone – the Prof is soon whisked away by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to Montana where the USA’s very own extraterrestrial representative has chosen to hang around. 

There is no explanation as to why a section of the craft opens up every eighteen hours, or how this arrangement was initially achieved but, nevertheless, a palpable sense of wonder ensues. 

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“…At the end of the day, it’s a story about a woman and her child, and the choices she makes. That’s really interesting to play in a sci-fi movie about communication and global war” – Amy Adams.

Why are they here, indeed.

For the central role, Adams puts in an engaging performance, one of intimacy and empathy, managing to elevate this material from the depths of absurdity to which it could so easily have sunk.

And despite its disturbing nature, the gradual unravelling of international tensions actually makes for compelling viewing.

Perhaps the most enthralling scene is the intrepid hazmat squad’s literally breath-taking ascent into the spacecraft, and their conversion to a vertical gravity. One discrepancy and all the guests would hurtle back/down to terra firma!

The visitors referred to here as  “heptapods” appear and dissolve in mist behind a transparent screen. They reminded me of the tentacled martians as depicted in The War Of The Worlds; the whale-like sounds they emit are particularly haunting. 

“Abbott and Costello” – how charming! Why do we see just two of them? …And we didn’t get to find out why they each have seven legs, either.

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I didn’t think it would look as big and expansive as it is. We’re in a black box. With a white screen and a hazmat suit… It emotionally wrecked me” – Jeremy Renner.

What a relief that Arrival spares us the eerie and stereotypical dramatic scenes of the alien armada ominously approaching Earth. Quite unlike more standard alien invasion flicks –gadzooks! They’re here already! An unsettling touch if ever there was one. And it is nothallelujah! – an invasion anyway!

Such a welcome cavalcade of subtle ideas: scientific, cultural and – oh yes! – linguistic. Part of the fascination for this movie centred on wondering how Villeneuve et al would bring it to a satisfactory denouement. Had expected a twist, but on a non-linear level? Heavy, baby.

Ultimately, its stark themes convince us that this film is not about the aliens, but about us: the complicated bipeds. In attempts at First Contact, these proceedings instead invoke that inherent inability to effectively communicate among our own species. Not only does communication (and co-operation) break down, in this hi-tech age, it gets switched off! 

As one news reporter rightly remarked at one point, whatever benevolent need our visitors require, why do they come in twelve ships, when only one would have sufficed?

It is startling to realise that in that cramped and bustling army camp in Montana, Dr. Banks is the only major female presence. Really?!

It is almost miraculous how she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) crack the intricacies of the alien non-linear orthography in unbelievably short time and in such stressful geopolitical circumstances.

Thankfully, this film is more engaging than Interstellar, and undoubtedly light years more worthwhile than Independence Day: Resurgence. 

Perhaps Arrival’s greatest asset is that, in a world increasingly tearing itself apart through social unrest and breakdowns in diplomacy, it could not have been released at a more apt time…

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BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

4-out-of-5

Lingua Extraterrestria: What Would First Contact Entail?

When We DO make Alien Contact, What Will We Have To Say? And How…? 

And By What Means Can We Begin To Comprehend What THEY Want?

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“What the hell are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?” – Private Frost. 

“Thousands have taken to the streets amid growing unrest at the perceived “alien invasion,” reads the Breaking News banner.

“Governments across the globe have declared a state of emergency urging residents to remain in their homes until meaningful contact can be made.”

What do they mean by “meaningful contact”?

The exciting, yet cautious, notion of first contact with (intelligent) extraterrestrial life has often popped up in movies, books and essays, but they all – frustratingly – fall short of supposing how such a landmark event could be achieved.

The most prominent SF extravaganza to tackle this premise (refraining from military antagonism) and emphasize attempts at establishing connections with alien visitors happened to be Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), in which initial connection transpired through exchanges of musical motes. 

Groovy – fortunately, variable tones possess the same harmonics elsewhere in our galaxy!

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“I really misunderstood that linguistics was closer to being a translator… When you’re approaching language, you look at structure, anthropological, sociological… how it exists inside of that. It’s got very complicated” – Amy Adams.  

Just opened in cinemas this week is Arrival, a most-welcome package that dares to offer something more cerebral rather than just aiming to be visually spectacular. 

After twelve ovular smooth and shell-like spacecraft appear in skies at various locations around the world, answers – rather that action – is called for. The military (led by Forest Whitakerenlist the services of leading academic linguist Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) to try and work out why they are here, and what do they want. 

Curiously, every eighteen hours, a section of the craft suspended above the plains of Montana opens up, allowing Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try and facilitate a basic exchange of communication.

The new Arrivals are revealed as seven-pronged starfish-like creatures dubbed “heptapods.” Intriguingly, these visitors do participate in contact, but only by emitting a highly sophisticated form of non-linear orthography – rings of swirling black “ink.”

How can Dr. Banks hope to suss out something like this?:

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“Some supporters of linguistic relativity think that the cognitive benefits of language helped spur its evolution. This is relevant to the movie, as the fate of humanity depends on us understanding their language” – newscientist.com

Among the earliest systems of writing, wedge-shaped cuneiform tablets were produced by the Sumerians in the Ancient Near East five thousand years ago. 

Having had the privilege of studying this bewildering civilization at university, one could not help but observe that they seemed so incongruous to World History – the notion of extraterrestrial origins should not sound so fantastical.

Incidentally, their religious texts quite categorically describe “the Ancient Gods who descended from the Heavens…”

Since the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet, scripts for Indo-European languages – of which English is just one member of that family – generally run horizontally from left to right, but with the observation that Arabic runs from right to left, should the heptapod circular “language” be read clockwise or anti-clockwise? 

Moreover, at what point on each billowing ring should Dr. Banks begin to decipher these messages? So many syntactic and semantic aspects to consider in such a fascinating and – considering what is at stake – frightening voyage of discovery!

As Dr. Banks wonders:

“They use non-linear orthography. Do they think like that too?” 

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“Are you dreaming in their language?” – Ian Donnelly.

Having already notched up five-star reviews and an encouraging string of superlatives from a wide range of film magazines and websites, Arrival looks set to be the phenomenal, thought-provoking classic that gives SF a good name.

Ultimately, this movie sets out to be more about human understanding, memory, love and fortitude than just delivering yet another tiresome alien invasion CGIfest far beyond the sensationalist reach of such dumb, inconsequential fare as Independence Day: Resurgence (which we were so kindly subjected to earlier in the year).

To find out how “distinctly original” and “truly exceptional” Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival really is, Brad will be checking it out this weekend. Therefore, a Review is sure to follow!

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Keep watching the skies… 

OMG: Lol and Behold

Posted: 28 February 2014

How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years...
How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years…

“Language changes very fast” – John Maynard Smith.

As a wordsmith trained in more traditional ways of writing, Bradscribe cannot help but notice the strange, swift and staggering shuffle that has beset the English languge in the last twenty years.

When at university (and loving every windswept, rain-soaked minute of it), up to seventeen years ago(!), mobile phones were just catching on; it swiftly became apparent that texting was becoming the new norm for faster and shorter communication.

With a monumental growth in urbanization, and a corresponding rise in the percentage of the world population who inhabit an urban environment, work-patterns and lifestyles in general have altered tremendously. Cultural values have played a part in the transformation of language(s); but ultimately, the phenomenal proliferation of hand-held technology has had a dramatic impact, bringing a new wave cascade of abbreviated, truncated, slang-driven jargon – completely ripping up the rules of language and how it is utilised. The “written word” seems to be an out-dated concept in itself, with this tendency to text, and even use symbols (emoticons being particularly rife) on rapidly evolving small, touch-type devices.

New words constantly enter the English language (directly derived from texting and other communicative media no less), while disused ones drop into oblivion; moreover, existing words have been swiped by the new-gen to carry entirely different denotations.  

These days, less people write longhand, while more people text
These days, less people write longhand, while more people text

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Whether it be on the train in England, or in the shopping malls of Thailand, most people seem to have their heads bowed towards their smartphones, endlessly texting, besides loading apps or playing useless games. Bradscribe just glances at this thoroughly modern crowd with a slight amused grin.  If the trains weren’t so ridiculously packed, you could most likely find me ROTFL.

One would say this scene is extraordinary, but it is so mind-bogglingly prevalent that it must surely now count as ordinary activity.

Interestingly, if a peep at some of their texts was possible, the chances of actually understanding any of the slang and abbreviations on show would be minimal. This should not come as a surprise. Such is the bewilderment of a constantly fluctuating language, transmogrifying through multifarious phases since its inception as Old English (derived from Old German) in tangible written form during the 5th century CE. Shaped by social upheavals of the Medieval Period, it twisted and turned into what is labelled Middle English, and then into Early Modern English, before settling on the Modern English used in the present.

With the upgrades in English Comprehension described (and dreaded!) above, it would appear that we are already immersed in the next tantalising stage of this incredible linguistic journey.  

The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.
The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.

“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all” – Walt Whitman.  

Increasing my presence on Facebook in the last 18 months, the major aspect one has had to get used to is working out what the mass of assorted acronyms included therein actually stand for. Easily, the most common expression to be found amidst the Comments must be the acronym:”lol,” short for Laugh Out Loud.

Originally appearing regularly on Usenet, this expression has since become ubiquitous on just about every other form of computer-mediated communication, and made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2011. It is only in recent months that Bradscribe has succumbed to utilising it in his own brief texts.

Will my writing style have to change in order to accommodate these changes in my language? One hopes that drastic alterations will not be needed. While some people strive to move with the times,  it is comforting to know that others will appreciate my adherence to more traditional creative values.   

Part of the wonder of English lies in its ability to have adjusted and adapted across many centuries, while stagnant languages have completely died out.

It just remains to be seen what other tectonic shifts are in store for the English language, and how and when we will seize the chance to use them.