We’re back to alien visitation at theaters with the new release Arrival, the latest movie from director Denis Villeneuve. The movie stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a high-profile linguist who’s recruited by the U.S. military after the arrival of a series of mysterious alien craft around the world. Those visitors have begun trying to communicate, but their language is completely incomprehensible to most everyone and so they decide they need professional help.
Aiding her is Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who acts as her assistant and liaison with the military, personified here by by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg). They all want to know what the aliens are saying before it’s too late and largely for their own reasons. So it becomes a race against time to translate their language and divine their intentions, with Banks leading the charge.
The first round of teaser posters was released right after the first trailer hit. They show the alien ship hovering over various locations around the globe, in some cases a recognizable major city, in others just a generic location like a desert, over the ocean in the middle of a group of aircraft carriers and so on. The idea here is to show that the titular arrival is planet-wide and is impacting everyone everywhere, not just in the one location where the story actually takes place.
The theatrical one-sheet took a very traditional approach, featuring the big floating head of Adams hovering over Renner and Whitaker. The alien ship is off to the side, shown hovering over the landscape as a few military helicopters swarm it. Oddly, there’s no copy or tagline on the poster, just the names of the cast, the credentials of Villeneuve and the credit block. Still, it presents the scope of the movie and it’s easy to get the basic premise that the characters on the right must deal with the situation on the left.
The first teaser trailer starts off with Banks playing with her kids because we need to establish that she has a family she’s fighting for. She’s quickly whisked off by the military and given a hasty briefing by the team on their way to the site of an alien ship. As they prep her to enter the ship they explain what’s going on, telling her that the ship opens every 18 hours to allow visitors as part of a whole routine.
It’s a decent teaser that lays out the basic idea of the movie – that aliens have arrived and Banks is an expert on language who’s being recruited because of her knowledge of greetings and translations. We don’t get a shot of the aliens themselves, something that’s likely being held for a later trailer. But this is a good first outing that establishes the rough outline of the story.
The second trailer starts off roughly the same, with Banks seeing the news of alien ships landing on Earth. She meets her team that will join her and they all make their way into the alien ship. When nothing happens Banks decides she needs to take off her hazmat suit, which leads to actual contact. As tensions around the world rise, the pressure on her to translate their message for the world and make sure our own words and actions aren’t being misunderstood rises.
What’s being sold here is the modern version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a story that’s more about trying to establish the baseline for communications as opposed to shoot outs and peace brigades and everything else. It looks tense and pulse-pounding as opposed to thrilling and action-packed, the very antithesis of the modern alien movie. Basically it’s everything Independence Day: Resurgence wasn’t.
The final trailer is short – just a minute long – but gets the point across. We start with Banks recounting the day the aliens arrived before we see her recruited by the military for her translation skills. The rest is largely pulled from footage we’ve already seen in the previous trailers as we go from first contact to misunderstanding to panicked actions to avert a showdown.
It’s still a good trailer, despite the short runtime, and gets the point across. This almost seems like simple reinforcement, not a wholly original case being made. That’s unusual for a non-franchise movie but the lack of new footage on display here speaks to the studio’s desire to maintain the mystery behind the story.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website starts with that short final trailer. When you close that trailer and get to the front page you…can watch the trailer. That’s the only prompt on the page aside from a few links at the bottom to view the credits and register for updates. Seriously, that’s it. The only other links on the site are those to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie.
It’s linked to if you scroll down Twitter but nowhere on the site, but you can visit this microsite to create your own portrait in the style of the alien’s language.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising with spots like this was pretty pervasive. Spots generally tried to distill the story down to 30 seconds, showing Banks being recruited, her making first contact with the aliens and then the drama that builds in the race to decode their language. They all set the movie up as a very dramatic, pulse-pounding thriller.
Plenty of online advertising was done well in advance of release, mostly using footage from the trailers involving either Adams’ recruitment to the project or shots of her and the rest of the team in their hazmat suits. A series of video ads were run on YouTube in the days before release that used just a couple of the same
Media and Publicity
The first real buzz around the movie came out of its presentation by the studio at CinemaCon, where the first footage was shown and the stars appeared and spoke. Several months later the movie was given an official release date along with a name change from its previous “Story of Your Life” moniker.
It was quite a while then before the first official still from the movie was released, showing Adams and Renner as they take in the spectacle of the alien ship.
The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. At the movie’s Venice premiere the stars and director were interviewed a bit about the direction of the story, their own thoughts and hopes for what might happen if aliens were to visit and more. The movie was also among those selected for the Telluride Film Festival.
Around the time of the Toronto appearance director Villeneuve was interviewed his experiences making the movie, his sci-fi influences and more. It was also one of two powerhouse performances at the festival by Adams, who emerged as the centerpiece of a lot of narratives during the festival for her understated and impressive acting and who kept talking about her role and the approach to the character Villeneuve encouraged her to take. Adams and the rest of the cast also made comments about the story at the movie’s premiere.
What’s not really captured here is the incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated by the festival and other screenings to date. That all has contributed to a great sense of anticipation among the informed movie fan for the movie, with critics and others singing its praises and stoking the fires among the general public and helping the campaign out by providing a steady supply of quotes and praise to choose from.
As for the marketing itself, it all seems to be working together to create a slick, stylish brand identity for the movie. Everything here is crisp and clean, presenting an adult thriller that’s geared for the adult and discerning audience. There’s little pandering here to the unwashed masses. Many have drawn the connection between this and previous movies like Interstellar and Gravity and it’s very much in that vein, an art film for grownups that’s dressed up like a big-budget alien movie. It’s more about the themes of the story, though, a message that comes through clearly in the campaign.