I was excited to see the film, hoping that finally a movie would explore just how rich the possibilities of communication are. But nope, we again and again get a very anthropomorphized bred of aliens.
It bothers me that they have too much in common with humans. Their primary medium of perception is visual perception apparently; they not only use visually perceivable system of communication, but also react to external stimuli by visual observation (doing nothing but looking at the humans as they arrive on the ship).
Their language is of course easily translatable to human languages within a few months. Just try to translate the communication system of bats or dolphins; you cannot. Alien communication should be even harder as we do not even share basic genetic familiarities with them. The only reason we cannot understand dolphins, but we can somehow teach gorillas sign-language, is that both humans and gorillas have a lot in common in how they conceive reality. Our concept formation processes are similar, hence the availability of a translation between our systems of communication. This should not work for aliens.
Mean, even the TV series, the Big Bang Theory, has more valid ideas than this. I remember an episode where the guys discuss over how to communicate with possible alien species, and they come up with the idea that the most likely form of perception and concept formation would be through the sense of touch. I don’t think there is any excuses for a big budgeted science fiction movie to fail intellectually when even the most mainstream TV series is capable of doing more.
Other than the issue of communication, the movie itself is just another example of a typical Hollywood flick. The Americans are the good guys, and the Chinese, the Russians and some other Muslim countries are bad guys. The main characters end up romantically involved just like in any other movie.
There is one good thing that Villeneuve does well, and it’s that he can show the paranoia, the pessimism, the capacity of destruction that lie within humanity. Incendies and Sicario were good movies in this aspect; they weren’t filled with naive optimism, but a realist pessimism. Arrival does it well too. It’s right in saying that the biggest obstacle of humanity is humanity itself.
Lastly, there’s the aspect of being able to perceive time non-linearly. Yes, language is more than just naming objects. It’s the bedrock of culture, and science for that matter as well. But it’s not a magical potion that gives you superpowers. I hated that aspect of Interstellar, but as most scientists found the movie okay, I just said maybe I am scientifically illiterate. But I know that in this movie, science-fiction becomes a fantasy.